Tribal Law Expert: How Seminole Ruling Helps & Doesn’t Help CA Sports Betting

Written By Connor Grootenhuis on July 24, 2023
UC Davis professor of law Katherine Florey weighs in on how Florida's Seminole ruling could impact sports betting in CA, from

A recent ruling in Florida could pave the way for California sports betting to launch sooner rather than later.

The DC Circuit of Appeals overturned a 2021 decision that halted sports betting Florida, giving a big victory to the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

But how does the Seminole ruling impact California sports bettingPlayCA spoke with an industry expert to find out.

UC Davis professor of law Katherine Florey has researched federal Indian law for decades. Her extensive research includes years of study on the extraterritorial application of law, theories of jurisdiction and the powers of tribal courts.

She believes the ruling leaves the door open to new possibilities for sports betting negotiations in California and other states.

“The increased flexibility the decision gives states and tribes may lead to more innovative arrangements in the future,” Florey wrote to PlayCA in an email.

Seminole ruling details

Thanks to its new gaming compact with the state in 2021, the Seminole Tribe offered online sports betting in Florida for a month. However, other gaming entities filed a lawsuit claiming the compact violated the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act, and a District Court decision shut down all legal online sports betting in Florida in August 2021.

However, that ruling has been unanimously overturned by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

The overturning of the original ruling paves the way for an explosion of online sports betting in Florida, and could lay the groundwork for other states, like California, to implement sports betting.

Tribal exclusivity

Due to the Seminole decision, there are questions as to whether California will pursue compacts for tribal exclusivity of online sports betting under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Florey told PlayCA it is possible.

Overall, Florey said the Seminole decision will generally be a welcomed one for tribes and states in giving both more flexibility in negotiating compacts. However, she brought up several reasons why the decision’s impact might be somewhat limited.

First, the decision clarifies it’s up to individual states to determine whether compacts like the Seminole compact in Florida are permissible.

“So this is something that California law would have to authorize,” Florey said. “Second, the decision is limited to a somewhat narrow context — whether the Secretary of Interior was correct in allowing the Seminole Tribe’s compact with Florida to go into effect. The court was careful to reserve some issues, such as whether individual bettors’ activities might violate federal law.”

Florey also added that, because the decision is by the DC Circuit, it would not be binding precedent in a challenge to a compact filed in state or federal court in California.

Hub-and-spoke model

After Prop 27 was filed for the 2022 election cycle, a hub-and-spoke model was put forward for California. Prop 27 failed, but the Seminole decision helped re-ignite conversation about a hub-and-spoke model for California tribes.

The model would allow for California tribes with online sportsbooks to serve as a hub for other tribes offering account registration and marketing services.

So could the Seminole decision pave the way for California tribes to use a hub-and-spoke model?

“It does in the sense that it holds that negotiating such a model does not present any issues under IGRA,” Florey said, adding that the model would still have to be authorized under California law.

Impact on California voters

Florey pointed out that most California residents may not know anything about the recent Seminole ruling. Because of this, it could be tough to sway voters who do not support sports betting.

“I don’t think most voters are going to be familiar with or swayed by the decision, but it might be of indirect help in changing voters’ minds if the sports betting model established by the Seminole-Florida compact proves to be a success,” Florey said.

If the proposed model is successful, more voters could jump on board. That could be a big help after both Prop 26 and Prop 27 failed by wide margins in the last election cycle.

In the long run, Florey doesn’t think that the courts will be a major obstacle.

For now, “it’s all about convincing voters and getting something passed,” she said.

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Connor Grootenhuis

Connor Grootenhuis is the Managing Editor at PlayCA, covering all things gambling and sports betting in California. Originally from the Midwest, he is now based in the Bayou State of Louisiana. Connor received his Bachelor’s degree in Sport Management from Miami University in 2017, and his Master’s degree in Health and Wellness Management from Tulane University in 2019. While obtaining his Master’s, he worked as a Graduate Assistant with the Tulane athletic department. He is an avid supporter of the RedHawk and Green Wave athletic teams, and his favorite professional teams are the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings, and New Orleans Saints. When it comes to his sports bets, Connor is a firm believer that every loss is a bad beat and every win is easy money.

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