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Seminole Tribe appealing order blocking gambling expansion

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Seminole Tribe of Florida on Tuesday moved to appeal a federal judge’s decision to block its deal with the state to expand gambling and online sports betting throughout Florida.

In a ruling late Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich found that the multibillion dollar agreement between the state and tribe allowing online betting violated a federal rule that requires a person to be physically on tribal land when wagering. The lawsuit, filed by non-Indian casino owners in Florida, challenged the approval of the agreement by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees tribal gambling operations.

The state and tribe had argued that because the computer servers processing the bets would be on tribal lands, bettors could wager from their phone or kiosks at race tracks and non-Indian casinos anywhere in the state and meet the federal standard.

Judge Friedrich, in her ruling, called that a “fiction,” writing “When a federal statute authorizes an activity only at specific locations, parties may not evade that limitation by ‘deeming’ their activity to occur where it, as a factual matter, does not.”

The tribe had begun taking bets Nov. 1, making Florida for a time the latest state to legalize sports gambling since a 2018 Supreme Court ruling. It lifted a federal ban on such wagering outside Nevada and a few other states. Today, about half the states and the District of Columbia have legalized betting on sports in some form.

The judge, who was appointed to the District of Columbia Circuit Court in 2017 by former President Donald Trump, also noted that a 2018 state constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly by voters requires any expansion of gambling outside of tribal lands be approved by voters.

The judge’s decision also blocks the tribe from adding roulette and craps to its Florida casinos — which may have allowed non-Indian casinos to do the same.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had worked out the compact with the tribe earlier this year and the GOP-controlled legislature approved it soon after, with the state potentially receiving $20 billion over the next 30 years.

Critics of the deal cheered its rejection, arguing that the compact also violates a constitutional requirement that prevents the expansion of gambling outside of tribal lands without voter approval. Miami billionaire Norman Braman, who has led a years-long battle against expanded gambling in Florida, called the decision a “big win for our community and our state.”

He said the compact’s ultimate goal wasn’t just to allow sports wagering, but to allow casinos to open in Miami Beach, downtown Miami, Trump’s golf resort near Miami and elsewhere throughout the state. He said that would harm the state’s quality of life, increase crime and turn some of its cities into another Las Vegas.

“This is not what the state of Florida is,” Braman said. “We are growing here. People are coming here to our state and our community. We are developing a high-tech industry here. Casino gambling and an extension of gambling is not what this community is all about.”

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Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

By ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE and TERRY SPENCER
Associated Press

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