Biden Administration Defends Florida Seminole Gambling Pact At Supreme Court

May 18, 2024 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Amid a potential challenge to the state’s gambling pact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Biden administration has stepped in and supported the pact. 

Florida state leaders as well as federal officials have argued in response to opposition to the pact that not only will it provide an economic benefit to Florida, but challenges to its legality are spurious. The Supreme Court has not yet rejected the case, and is deliberating whether to take the appeal. Challengers of the pact lost at the Florida Supreme Court.

This page will detail the controversy surrounding the gambling pact as well as current gambling law in the state of Florida.

Seminole Tribe Gambling Pact

In 2021, the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe signed a gaming pact giving the Seminole Tribe exclusivity over sports betting as well as gambling on Native American land in the state. Notably, the pact allowed remote sports betting using devices that were not themselves located on Seminole land at the time the bets were placed. It did so by changing the legal location of an online bet from the location it is placed to where it is received, thus making all remote sports bets that utilized Seminole Tribe-administered services permissible under Florida law.

Since the agreement was signed, the Seminole Tribe’s gaming competitors have suffered losses due to the benefits conferred by the pact. But because of the way the pact was structured, two of the tribe’s major competitors argue the pact grants “a statewide monopoly of off-reservation online sports betting to one particular Indian Tribe,” in violation of the Fifth Amendment and the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community

In early 2024, the Florida Supreme Court rejected this challenge to the pact. Since then, the competitors, West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the appeal now faces opposition from the Biden administration’s solicitor general and Secretary of the Interior, among others. 

The Biden administration’s brief, filed by Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, argues that “the compact in the case is an agreement between two sovereigns — the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe — concerning the Tribe’s own conduct of commercial gaming operations within the state.”

The administration’s brief also notes that a Florida appeals court has already upheld the constitutionality of the pact allowing remotely placed sports bets because they are processed on Seminole land.

What is Considered Gambling in Florida?

Reading about the Seminole pact controversy, many may assume that gambling is legal in Florida. But gambling still remains unlawful under Florida Statute 849.01.

The law states that anyone who maintains a gaming table or room, or other gaming implement outside of an area authorized by the state, and gambles for money or other valuables, is guilty of a second degree misdemeanor. This is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Gambling is formally defined as “playing or engaging in any card game or game of chance, at any place, by any device, for money or another thing of value.”

Gambling has various characteristics, which may include one or all of:

  • The assisting, promoting, or operating a game of chance for a reward, including money or something else of value;
  • Unlawful betting or wagering money or something else of value;
  • Selling, manufacturing or purchasing, possessing, or transporting gambling devices or goods;
  • Tampering with the outcome of an event to support gambling success, and;
  • Possessing or transmitting information for wagering.

Gambling is most frequently done at horse and dog races, as well as at casinos. However, sports betting is increasingly popular with the legalization of the practice by the Supreme Court in 2018 and the recent rollout of remote betting using Seminole Tribe-administered applications following the signing of the gambling pact.

Important: Florida law allows small social bets that are distinct from gambling. However, this must be limited to a $10 wager.

Gambling Charges and Penalties in Florida

There are various gambling-related offenses under Florida law, but they are predominantly classified as either one of two categories: participating in a gambling activity or maintaining a gambling establishment.

Penalties for gambling in Florida depend on whether the offender participated in gambling or maintained a gambling establishment. Additionally, depending on whether machines were used or a lottery was created, this could increase the severity of a gambling charge.

Florida Statute Section 849.08 states that participating in a gambling activity takes place whenever a person plays or engages in any game of cards, roulette, keno, faro, or other game of chance at any place, by any device, for money or another item of value. Any person who violates this law can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. The same goes for keeping a gambling house.

However, more severe charges may apply in certain situations. If a person has been accused of setting up or promoting a lottery, they can be charged with a third-degree felony. The penalties for a third-degree felony include:

  • Up to $5,000 in fines; or
  • Up to 5 years in prison; and
  • 5 years of probation

If someone has been accused of gambling-related machine violations, they can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. The penalties for a first-degree misdemeanor include:

  • Up to a $1,000 fine; or
  • Up to 1 year in jail; and
  • 1 year of probation

Note: In addition to potential criminal penalties, property used to facilitate gambling is subject to seizure under Florida Statute 849.036, including gambling devices and paraphernalia. 

Contact a Gambling Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida 

If you or a loved one have been accused of a gambling offense, it is important that you seek out the advice of a skilled Florida criminal defense attorney. Florida takes its gambling laws seriously, and a conviction can result in harsh consequences. 

It is not worth betting your freedom to face down charges alone. Pumphrey Law Firm will stand by your side throughout the entire legal process, and work towards earning your freedom. Call us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message on our website.

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