Court ruling a wake-up call

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Just when it appeared Florida was on its way to becoming a gambling mecca, a federal judge invalidated an agreement between the state and the Seminoles that would have given the tribe a monopoly on online sports betting here.

On Nov. 22, U.S. District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich ordered the U.S. Department of Interior to throw out the 2021 gaming compact Gov. Ron DeSantis reached with the tribe. The judge apparently shared the misgivings of many of the compact's critics, who saw the deal as a way around the Florida Constitution and federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, to expand gambling in Florida. The ruling not only halts online betting but blocks the tribe's planned Hard Rock Casino expansions.

The judge made clear he didn't buy the argument that the tribe could host online sports statewide as long as the servers taking the bets were located on tribal grounds. While recognizing the language of federal law, the judge also upheld the will of Florida voters who amended the state constitution to give them greater say over gambling expansion.

"This ruling says what should've been obvious to everyone from the beginning — that Florida's Constitution gives only Florida voters, not politicians in Tallahassee and Washington, the power to expand gambling in our state," John Sowinski, executive director of No Casinos, said after the ruling came down. No Casinos, an anti-gambling nonprofit, was one of several plaintiffs in the lawsuit that stopped the compact in its tracks.

Admittedly, we were skeptical when the compact was first announced earlier this year. Given, the state's history of opposing constitutional amendments to expand gambling, we believed that the state should have pushed for more than what the tribe offered, which was less than the $3 billion-over-seven-years proposal made to then Gov. Rick Scott.