TAMPA, Fla — The Seminole Indian Tribe went live with its Hard Rock Sports Betting app earlier this week, but on Friday a federal judge heard arguments that could just as quickly pull the plug.
“If they were hoping to change the judge’s views or persuade the judge during oral argument, that moment has been lost,” said Sports Betting Attorney Daniel Wallach.
Wallach was monitoring Friday’s court hearing in Washington, D.C., tweeting play-by-play developments of a federal case that could determine the future of Florida’s gaming compact with the Seminole Indian tribe.
“This case rises or falls on the issue of Internet gambling being a violation of the federal Indian gambling law,” said Wallach.
This Seminole Tribe went live with its sports betting app days before Judge Dabney Friedrich could even hear the case.
At issue is whether bets placed off tribal land violate the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, even if the servers processing those bets are on tribe property.
“There’s zero - zero case law that supports the Seminole tribe’s position,” said Wallach.
Casino operator West Flagler Associates filed the suit challenging the compact against the U.S. Dept. of Interior since it’s the federal body that signs off on Indian gaming deals.
The lawsuit argues the government made an error by approving the deal between the Seminole Tribe and the State of Florida. Wallach says Judge Friedrich was surprised by what seemed to be a lack of preparedness by the government’s lawyer.
“I mean everybody on the call was just stunned by the judge essentially reading her the riot act that this was unacceptable,” said Wallach.
Judge Friedrich gave the government until Tuesday to file any additional briefs, but Wallach says he’d be shocked if the decision – expected sometime next week – lets the compact stand.
“It was a lost opportunity for the Seminole Tribe - who didn’t even get a chance to speak. And, obviously, a lost opportunity for the Department of the Interior who was unable to articulate any cognizable legal positions today,” said Wallach.
So, what if you’ve already put down a bet?
Wallach says those wagers placed for this week’s games won’t need to be refunded since no decision is expected before then. But after Sunday that might be a different story depending upon how the judge rules.
“The outcome could be you get your money back, no bet. Or you might have to wait a little while to get your money back,” said Wallach. “So, to use gambling parlance, all bets are off after this Sunday.”
Wallach says he expects Judge Friedrich will rule in a matter of days.
If the compact is thrown out, he says the Seminole Tribe could still appeal, but in the meantime, their electronic sports betting operation could be forced to cease operations.