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TALLAHASSEE — Florida sports fans looking to place their first legal bets on games this weekend will have to wait a little longer.
And if opponents who have filed three lawsuits eventually win in court, such bets could be off the table.
Wagers on sporting events are legal on Seminole Tribe lands starting Friday, and the Tribe has plans to offer an app to allow residents to place bets that flow through a server on their land. But those plans won’t be in place for at least another month and perhaps longer.
The Tribe received a monopoly on sports betting through its new compact with the state, which was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April and passed by the Legislature in a May special session.
It received federal regulatory approval in August, but three lawsuits are challenging the agreement, which argue it violates federal and state law and shouldn’t take effect.
No Casinos, an Orlando-based group and two South Florida businessmen, car dealer Norman Braman and developer Armando Codina filed suit in the Washington, D.C., District Court last month. Among the arguments, the lawsuit claims the compact violates a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2018 requiring new expansions of casino gambling to be approved by voters.
“They can’t do that without a vote of the people,” No Casinos president John Sowinski said.
The Tribe, though, helped finance the petition drive to get the amendment on the ballot. It argues the compact doesn’t violate the amendment because it granted an exception for new gaming under an agreement between the state and the Tribe.
Sowinski countered that the exception only applies if the compact is legal under federal law, and he claims the new compact isn’t.
Other parts of the compact allow the Tribe to offer craps and roulette at its casinos and require the Tribe to pay the state $20 billion over the next 30 years, including $2.5 billion in the next five years.
Two other lawsuits have been filed by two parimutuel owners, Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and the Bonita Springs Poker Room in Lee County, one in the D.C. court and another in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
The suits contend the compact violates the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act by allowing bets placed outside of tribal lands. Supporters of the compact have countered that because the bets are processed on a server on tribal lands, the wagers placed on cell phone apps would meet legal muster.
Sowinski is confident his group will win in court and said the Tribe could lose out if it makes investments to take advantage of sports betting that he believes will be deemed illegal by the courts.
“The Tribe probably realize that they proceed at their own risk in terms of venture capital and whatever is expended until the courts make a determination on this,” Sowinski said.
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But the Tribe still plans to offer sports betting later this fall, although an exact date hasn’t been announced, Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner said.
“Seminole Gaming continues to move forward with hiring and training hundreds of new team members for the authorized launch of sports betting, craps and roulette — games now legal in Florida,” Bitner told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
A hearing in the D.C. court on Nov. 5 could help clarify the future of Florida’s gambling scene. Magic City is asking for summary judgment to prevent the compact from taking effect without a jury trial.
After the court battles, another fight at the ballot box could loom in 2022 that affects the compact.
DraftKings and FanDuel, two national sports betting companies, have put $20 million towards putting an amendment on next year’s general election ballot allowing sports betting at parimutuels and on apps throughout the state.
Sun Sentinel staff writer Chris Perkins contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org