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Florida Sports Betting Challenge Could Be Headed to the U.S. Supreme Court

September 15, 2023

As things stand now, the Seminole Tribe in Florida has exclusive rights to offer retail and mobile sports betting in the state. These rights were assigned by a new compact that was signed by Tribe leadership and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in 2022.

Immediately after that signing, protests could be heard from other gambling interests that were upset about being denied access to part of Florida's potentially huge sports betting pie. Those protests were led by West Flagler Associates (WFA) among other gambling interests. Eventually, the protest led to a sports betting "false start" as the Department of the Interior (DOI) decided to suspend the new compact, pending further investigation and hearings.

Note: The Seminoles did accept bets for about 30 days through their Hard Rock Cafe Casino property.

The Issue Being Argued

The initial issue arose because of the specific language that resides in the Indian Gaming Rights Act (IGRA). In that law, it was stated that Indian Tribes could offer retail and mobile gambling services as long as those services were administered on Indian land. Therein lies the initial issue.

According to WFA and other opponents against the Seminoles, the Tribe offering mobile sports betting services would violate the IGRA because access would be given to sports bettors not located on Indian land. Seminole leadership argued that the computer servers would be on Indian land, inferring that bets made through those servers would technically qualify as bets made on Indian land.

Initially, the IGRA sided with the opponents. The Seminole Tribe took the ruling to a district court where the court ruled that the DOI had erred in its ruling and reversed the decision.

That opened the door for the Seminoles to resume taking bets from all Florida residents who meet state guidelines for online gambling. As of yet, the Tribe has not resumed their sports betting operators even with the NFL regular season getting underway. Some of their hesitation might be due to the fact they are anticipating more legal arguments. There is a sense that another false start would potentially create marketing issues.

West Flagler Associates Contemplate Going to the U.S. Supreme Court

Earlier this summer, WFA petitioned the D.C. U.S. District Court to hear an appeal of the lower district court's ruling. On September 11, 2023, the D.C. Court formally decided to not hear the appeal. Now, WFA is trying to decide how to proceed.

If they want to try to prevent the Hard Rock Cafe Casino from taking mobile sports bets, they could ask the District Court to issue a stay until the SCOTUS has an opportunity to hear an appeal of the lower court's ruling. Unfortunately for opponents, that filing would likely not bear fruit.

That leaves filing an appeal with the SCOTUS. Here's the problem with going in that direction. It's very rare that the SCOTUS will hear an appeal over a district court ruling. They typically don't accept appeals unless they would be dealing with appellate court rulings. That leaves everything in flux, though there is nothing standing in the way of Seminoles taking retail and mobile bets at this time.


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