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Gambling companies are challenging a Florida tribe over online betting in the state

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Seminole Tribe wants to offer online sports betting in Florida. It has an agreement with the administration of Governor Ron DeSantis that was struck two years ago and says the tribe will be the only entity in the state allowed to offer online betting. In return, the state would get a cut from the projected billions of dollars in gambling revenue. But lawsuits from other online gambling companies have kept the tribe from offering its sports betting app in the state. The latest one was filed just this week in the Florida Supreme Court. Talia Blake with member station WMFE in Orlando joins us. Talia, thanks so much for being with us.

TALIA BLAKE, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: What's the latest development with this lawsuit?

BLAKE: Yeah, so the lawsuit filed at the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday basically accuses DeSantis and the legislature of exceeding their power by allowing sports betting off tribal lands without approval from voters. So they say it violates a 2018 constitutional amendment which doesn't allow gambling outside of tribal lands without a vote. And, you know, with this app, sports betting can basically be done anywhere in the state. FanDuel and DraftKings, which are two online national sports betting apps, are backing some of the lawsuits because they want in on the game. The way the deal is now gives the Seminole Tribe basically a quasi-monopoly over sports betting here in Florida.

SIMON: What do we know about the original agreement that Governor DeSantis signed with the tribe?

BLAKE: Yeah, so that deal was made back in 2021. So it's been about two years now. The agreement allowed the Seminoles to accept sports wagers from mobile devices anywhere in the state with bets running through their servers on tribal land. And data from the state shows that the Seminole Tribe of Florida has some 3,000 members spread out in about six reservations across the state. Now, currently, these reservations have some forms of legal gambling, you know, like casino gambling. Now, sports betting would be a huge boost of revenue for the tribe, and the state would get its cut of an estimated $20 billion over 30 years. I recently spoke with Keith Buckley. He teaches business and sports management at Rollins College here. And he said, should sports betting come to Florida, it will be big.

KEITH BUCKLEY: Not only do we have a population of 22 million, but the - you know, the tourists that come in. And obviously that gives them access to legalized gambling, specifically soccer, because, you know, most of the games are at a different time zone or in - very much in the early in the mornings.

BLAKE: So you can bet on soccer games, for example, all over the world with these apps 24/7, all-day sports betting. I mean, there's always some sporting event somewhere.

SIMON: And the U.S. Supreme Court may eventually get involved.

BLAKE: Yeah, that's correct. On Thursday, a federal appeals court in D.C. sided with the tribe on a challenge to the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, or IGRA, which regulates gaming on tribal lands. And it's basically the same legal argument here that while the servers are on the tribal lands, the actual betting can happen anywhere in Florida since it's done through your phone. The online betting companies bringing this federal lawsuit argue that the outcome of the case could represent kind of a blueprint for expanding gambling outside of Indian lands across the country, so big implications there. And with this week's ruling, you know, it now could go to the U.S. Supreme Court. They could reject it, and the state case is also still pending, so we're really in some murky water. It's unclear if the Seminole Tribe will actually launch online betting in Florida anytime soon.

SIMON: Talia Blake, member station WMFE in Orlando, thanks so much for being with us.

BLAKE: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Talia Blake