U.S. appeal of sports betting case asks if judge went too far
Did the court go too far in closing the Hard Rock Sportsbook?

Hard Rock SportsBook
The filing outlines an appeal of the court decision that invalidated Florida's Gambling Compact.

The appeal of a federal judge’s decision to strike down Florida’s 2021 Gambling Compact with the Seminole Tribe may focus on whether the judge went too far with her “remedy.”

The Department of Justice is appealing the Nov. 22 ruling by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich invalidating the compact.

Accepting a challenge brought by two South Florida card rooms opposing the Seminole’s exclusive authority to run sports betting, Friedrich found the U.S. Department of Interior improperly approved the 2021 Gambling Compact in August and tossed that deal and the sports betting it authorized.

Though the compact’s big players are the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state of Florida, Friedrich’s ruling made the Department of the Interior the fall guy. So it is that federal agency’s case to appeal. It did so in late January.

Meanwhile, all the gambling expansions the Seminole Tribe planned on through the Gambling Compact, most notably its Hard Rock Sportsbook online sports betting service, are shut down. And the $500 million per year in revenue sharing the state expected to receive is off the table. Revenue sharing reverts back to the $350 million or so Florida was entitled to annually under the previous 2010 Gambling Compact, which is now back in force.

In a filing Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. District, the federal government indicated it was pursuing three lines of appeal for the Nov. 22 decision: contesting the judge’s decision to even hear the case; contesting her decision; and contesting whether she went too far with his remedy of tossing the compact.

Rachel Haron, an attorney in the Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division, stated in the brief that the issues on appeal are:

— Whether the district court erred in denying the federal government’s motion to dismiss the challenges;

— Whether the district court erred in holding the agency’s action unlawful;

— And whether the district court abused its discretion in selecting a remedy.

Friedrich’s ruling striking down the 2021 Gambling Compact disrupted long-term prospects for major casino expansions by the Seminole Tribe, and also disrupted the addition of some immediate gambling options, such as roulette and craps tables.

But the most immediate major impact was on sports betting, a potentially quick and big new gambling attraction in Florida. The Compact had allowed Florida adults to place bets with the Seminoles over smartphones (and other devices) on soccer, tennis, basketball, hockey, football, college football, baseball and other sports. Other gambling interests were shut out of the action.

That was the impetus of the lawsuit filed in August by West Flagler Associates, which owns the Magic City Casino, and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., which owns the Bonita Springs Poker Room.

The Seminole Tribe introduced its Hard Rock Sportsbook internet betting app on Nov. 1, accepting sports betting across Florida for the first time. The federal court ruling shut that down three weeks later.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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