Mark Lane: Court ruling on Seminole gaming compact means all bets are off

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Marcellus Osceola, Jr., chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, pose for a photo at a signing ceremony on Friday, April 23, 2021.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Marcellus Osceola, Jr., chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, pose for a photo at a signing ceremony on Friday, April 23, 2021.

In another federal court setback for Gov. Ron DeSantis, a federal district judge on Monday struck down the state’s gaming pact with the Seminole Tribe.

The compact had been signed with some fanfare by the governor after the Florida Legislature waved it through in a quickie special session last May. The state estimated it could bring in $2.5 billion in tax revenue to Florida over five years.

Mark Lane: Special session could open new gambling expansion

Related: Seminole gambling pact needs a close, careful look

The agreement allowed the Seminole Tribe to run online betting for sports gamblers around the state. Bettors would be able to put their money down not only at tribal casinos but at Florida pari-mutuel sites, sites that had recently phased out dog racing and are operating card rooms. But of broader importance, the agreement also allowed online betting from your computer or smartphone.

Mark Lane
Mark Lane

Compact supporters argue that since the computer servers handling the action are on tribal land, that's the equivalent of betting at a Seminole casino. This is betting on virtual tribal land, the Seminoles’ section of the cloud, as it were.

A clever workaround. Too clever, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled. “This court cannot accept that fiction,” she wrote crisply in a 25-page memorandum opinion.

“Because the compact allows patrons to wager throughout Florida, including at locations that are not Indian lands, the compact violates IGRA’s ‘Indian lands’ requirement,” the ruling said, referring to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act’s prohibitions.

Previously: Florida gambling pact with Seminole Tribe now to face scrutiny from federal government

The court also acknowledged, but did not definitively rule on, the compact’s clash with an anti-casino state constitutional measure that voters passed only three years ago. An amendment that said casino gambling could be expanded only by a supermajority of voters in a statewide vote.

Unless stayed on appeal, this ruling puts things back before the new compact was approved. The Seminole Tribe, although technically not a party to the suit, already has filed a notice of appeal, and the state is reviewing the decision and formulating its options going forward.

What about voters?

In the meantime, you may have seen people with clipboards at art festivals and parking lots talking about money for education, which is the pitch for a legalized sports-betting constitutional amendment being pushed by DraftKings and FanDuel. The group supporting the effort calls itself Florida Education Champions because revenues would go toward education. You know, just as the Florida Lottery money does.

Except the Florida Legislature took money away from education and then used lottery money to make up the difference. In short, educators see the Florida Lottery as an unkept promise. The sports-betting people are hoping Floridians have short memories, something that seems likely enough.

But would the same Florida voters who voted to restrict gambling with a 71% yes vote turn around in 2022 and vote by a supermajority to expand sports betting? This is the Florida electorate we’re talking about, so it’s surely not impossible. We’re an unpredictable bunch. So far, the initiative has turned in 119,907 verified signatures with more now being reviewed.

Oddly, ever since the amendment limiting casino gambling beat the odds and became part of the state constitution, lawmakers, especially in the state Senate, have been working overtime to find new ways to expand gambling. As with other state referenda put on the ballot by petition, lawmakers did not take the hint after the votes were counted.

The sports-betting part of the Seminole gaming compact is a new legal situation that could hardly have been foreseen in the 1980s when the tribal gaming law was drafted. Although a solid win for those who oppose gambling expansion, this will not be the last court case on the matter or final court ruling. But it is a welcome speedbump in a rush to authorize more gambling everywhere that was moving way too fast.

Mark Lane is a News-Journal columnist. His email is

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: A federal judge struck down Florida's gaming pact with the Seminoles