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Colorado tribe sues state to get right to digitally sports bet statewide

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During a meeting of the American Indian Affairs Interim Study Committee on Monday, 8 July, Colorado’s Southern Ute Tribe revealed that they had sued Colorado Governor Jared Polis and Colorado. The tribe says that Colorado has prevented it from offering digital sports betting.

Melvin J Baker, the tribal chairman of the tribe, cited the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling that it would not hear the West Flagler case vs. the US Deptartment for the Interior as a reason to file the suit. Baker stated that since the Seminole Tribe was allowed to participate in sports betting statewide in Florida, any legal obstacle to Southern Ute or Ute mountain participating in sports betting statewide is no longer there.

On Monday, the tribe filed a lawsuit in US District Court for District of Colorado. A scheduling and planning meeting was scheduled for 10 October by the court. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement by then, the court will take the case.

In May 2020, digital sports betting will be available across the state of Colorado. BetMGM BetRivers DraftKings FanDuel all went live at the same time. More than 20 commercial platforms are currently operating in the State.

The federal law allows tribes to accept whatever the state provides

According to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, anything that is legal within a state will also be legal in a reserve located inside the state. State and tribe will have to amend their compact to incorporate gaming, or new forms of gaming. Baker stated that there were multiple chances for the state to contact and start negotiations but failed to do it.

The court record shows that the state and the tribe exchanged several letters but no solution was reached.

It operates under the terms of a compact from 1995. The tribe has a casino in its southern reservation, near the border with New Mexico. Ute Mountain Ute is the other state tribe that has an adjacent reservation and offers casino gambling in person.

Baker said to the committee, “enough’s enough,” and made it clear that his tribal members do not intend to take legal action. It does, however, want to be able to offer mobile sports betting statewide.

Tribe: state has violated the 1995 compact

According to the tribe, this is a violation of their 1995 gaming compact. This compact permits the tribe “to have those gaming activities and wager amounts that are exactly the same” as ones authorized in the state. The tribe is able to provide the same services as commercial operators.

Colorado gaming law allows commercial operators to provide digital sports betting statewide.

Baker stated that “through actions taken by the State, it has been impossible for us to successfully engage in this new opportunity of economic growth.” Baker said that non-tribal gambling enterprises had an advantage because of the state’s actions. Market share is the key and, by delaying the challenge to the tribal ability to participate until Colorado legalized sports betting… [the state division of gambling] made sure that tribal gaming enterprises would not have any opportunity to achieve any type of market share.”

In 2020, the Southern Ute will partner with US Bookmaking for Sky Ute’s digital sportsbook. The digital sportsbook did not have to pay the 10% tax imposed on operators because the server was located on tribal land. In July 2023, the platform was shut down.

The latest federal ruling: Place bets where they are received

A lower court ruling will stand because the SCOTUS decided not to hear West Flagler. This ruling permits bets placed anywhere to be counted. This means that bets made in Florida will be considered to have been placed on Seminole lands if the server is a tribe.

Baker is the only tribal leader who has attempted to use the ruling of the appeals court in another state. The West Flagler Case is specific to the Seminole and Florida compact of 2021, but it does set precedent. Legal experts have pointed out that the precedent will only work if both the tribe and the state are “willing.”

Scott Crowell, a tribal lawyer who works for iGB told iGB that the Florida-Seminole Compact is a good example of what a state willing to work with a tribe willing to do a statewide compact under IGRA. It strengthens tribes’ position when they are faced with states who have expanded mobile sports betting to non-Indian entities. The question remains, however, whether or not a tribe could force a state that is recalcitrant to agree to a compact amendement for mobile gaming statewide.

The complaint claims that the actions of the state are motivated by “money”. Colorado taxes sports betting at 10%, but federal law prohibits such a tax. The state wanted to keep the tribe from internet sports betting.”

Baker stated that although his tribe is not interested in legal action, it was “forced to take critical actions to ensure equal and fair treatment to our sovereign rights”.

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