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US DOI announces Florida-style regulations to protect tribal gaming

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The Department of the Interior (DOI) has announced updated federal regulations, similar to those seen in Florida, that boost the “clarity and transparency” of Indian gaming compacts.

The updated rules mean states are permitted to agree deals to allow tribes to offer gambling away from their reservations. The aim of the DOI’s rules is to make it easier for tribes to negotiate deals, with gaming “one of the most significant drivers of tribal economic development”.

The “hub-and-spoke” model of bets being placed off Indian land and being routed through trial servers has been used in Florida by the Seminole Tribe. The rules mean the Seminole Tribe essentially has an online sports betting monopoly in the Sunshine State.

The regulations also intend to make the process for tribes seeking the DOI’s approval for compacts with states easier.

The alterations to 25 C.F.R.Part 293 are expected to make the DOI’s criteria for approving tribal deals clearer by clarifying boundaries for aspects of negotiation, defining key terms, as well as outlining when the DOI should review a compact.

The DOI says the final rule “reflects input and recommendations provided by tribes”, with the new regulations effective 30 days after they are published in the Federal Register. This is expected to happen this week.

DOI secretary Deb Haaland said: “Not only does Indian gaming support tribal economies, the funding it generates helps to support the vital services that tribal nations provide to their citizens.

“By updating these regulations, we will provide certainty and clarity to tribes for an industry that remains one of the most significant sources of economic development in Indian country.”

Assistant secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland added: “By providing clarity on Class III gaming compact negotiations, the Biden-Harris administration is following through on its commitments to Indian country.”


“Hub-and-spoke” model in Florida

The Seminole Tribe’s effective monopoly in Florida came after a drawn-out legal battle which ended in the US Supreme Court denying West Flagler’s motion to stay in Florida.

The Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida agreed on statewide mobile sports betting, essentially creating a monopoly, and the tribe launched Hard Rock Bet in the state in November.

The compact was initially approved in 2021, though the District of Columbia’s ruling that the Seminole Tribe’s deal infringed upon the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) halted progress.

However, that ruling was reversed in June 2023, again giving the Seminoles free reign in Florida. After West Flagler’s motion to stay was denied, the Seminole Tribe were free to relaunch Hard Rock Bet, a major win for the Seminole Tribe and tribal gaming as a whole.


Tribal sovereignty under attack

The year 2023 was hugely important as tribal nations fought for sovereignty in the United States.

With state governments wanting to take more control over Indian country and ongoing fears about the courts, tribes are digging in to defend their exclusive casino and gaming rights.

Overall, tribal gaming is performing well. The National Indian Gaming Commission’s annual report showed revenues in 2022 rose 4.9% to $40. That $1.9bn year-on-year gain is the highest ever recorded.

However, even with the ongoing strong performance of tribal gaming and casino, leaders are still on edge with politicians and commercial gaming interests looking to gain some of the tribal success. This is happening through state governments, as well as the courts.

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