SCOTUS leaves the door open for tribal nations to expand into online gaming

Savannah Maher Jun 21, 2024
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SCOTUS leaves the door open for tribal nations to expand into online gaming

Savannah Maher Jun 21, 2024
Heard on:
andresr/Getty Images
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In a flurry of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the Justices’ lack of action on one case is a major victory for the tribal gaming industry. The court left in place an agreement between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state of Florida, and left the door open for tribal nations to expand into online gaming, as the commercial gaming industry moves more and more in that direction.

The agreement gives the Seminole Tribe of Florida the exclusive right to offer online sports betting statewide. Customers can place bets on their phones from anywhere in Florida, as long as the server receiving the bets is on Seminole land.

A commercial gaming company sued in federal court, arguing that deal violates the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

“I mean, we’re dealing with federal interpretations of a statute that was drafted before the internet existed,” said Jonodev Chaudhuri, former chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission.

While the 36-year-old law does regulate gaming “on Indian lands,” he said the law is also clear: “Congress intended for tribes to be able to utilize new technologies” to stay competitive in the gaming market.

By declining to take up the case, the Supreme Court cleared the way for more agreements like the one between the Florida and the Florida Seminole.

“For tribes, the stakes were enormous,” noted Steve Light, a tribal gaming expert at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

For many tribal nations, gaming revenue stands in for a tax base.

“Indian gaming has been incredibly important to job creation, to tribes’ ability to deal with infrastructure, police and fire services, paving roads,” said Light.

And he added that it’s important that tribal gaming enterprises can keep up with industry trends.

Still, the court’s decision doesn’t automatically grant every tribe the authority to expand into mobile betting. “It allows for states and tribes to sit down at the negotiating table,” Light added.

And it allows for those parties to figure out how off-reservation mobile betting can work for everyone.

For the most rural tribes especially, “it’s a game changer,” said Chris James with the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.

Historically, he said that gaming tribes far from big cities have been disadvantaged. “Sometimes that gaming is only a job creator,” he said, “which is great.”

But James added that online betting could help those operations reach new customers and become true revenue drivers.

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