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US Supreme Court Stalls Sports Betting Plan in Florida

Jessica Aletor
Written by Jessica Aletor
October 23, 2023
US Supreme Court Stalls Sports Betting Plan in Florida

A recent Supreme Court order means that Floridians may have to wait a little longer for legal sports betting.

Chief Justice John Roberts, on Thursday, October 12, stopped the execution of an appeals court ruling that would have allowed the Seminole Tribe in Florida to provide state-wide sports betting services.

The order of the Supreme Court will take effect immediately, pending the apex court’s determination of an appeal that came from local gambling operators.

Supreme Court Decision is a Product of Two Years of Litigation

Over the last two years, West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation have been involved in a lengthy legal battle with the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe. Back in 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis agreed to an arrangement granting the tribal group a monopoly of sports betting operations in Florida.

This compact also allowed the tribe to operate sports betting computer servers on tribal property. With the US Department of Interior approving the deal, West Flagler immediately moved to sue the state government, marking the state of what would become a rather long-drawn-out dispute.

Among its claims, the gambling company alleged that the agreement between Florida and the Seminole Tribe permitted off-reservation gaming, contrary to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). For three weeks in November 2021, Floridians enjoyed brief access to sports betting through the Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile app.

However, federal district judge Dabney Friedrich delivered a judgment nullifying the compact, causing the Seminoles to roll back the service. Judge Friedrich tagged the agreement a “fiction” but this ruling was overturned by a panel of the appeals courts this June.

The panel’s judgment essentially declared that a compact "can legally authorize a tribe to conduct gaming only on its own lands. But at the same time, IGRA does not prohibit a gaming compact - which is, at bottom, an agreement between a tribe and a state - from discussing other topics, including those governing activities 'outside Indian lands.'"

Subsequently, in September, the US Court of Appeals in Washington refused to rehear the case. Up until then, Florida bettors had a bit of respite, nursing hope that sports betting would return soonest.

West Flagler Not Backing Down on Antagonism to Sports Betting Compact

West Flagler’s lawyers filed an urgent request to stay the ruling of the appeals court. This motion was filed at the Supreme Court, to which Chief Justice John Roberts issued his mandate.

Although Roberts did not outline his reasoning in the text of the decision, the mandate did read that the ruling of the appeals courts was “recalled and stayed pending further order.” The request from the pari-mutuel company reads as follows:

"The circuit (appeals court) opinion raises a question of nationwide importance regarding the ability of states and tribes to use IGRA compacts to provide for gaming off Indian lands."

"Absent a stay, the compact will give rise to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of sports betting transactions that violate both state and federal law before this (Supreme) Court has the opportunity to address the merits," the request further read. "The circuit opinion enables a dramatic change in public policy on legalized gaming that, once started, may be difficult to stop."

It was on this note that the request urged the court to preserve the status quo in public interest. Attorneys representing West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers have also stated that they intend to file a petition requesting the Supreme Court justices to consider the substantive points of the case.

In the interim, both companies were also reported to have filed another case at the Florida Supreme Court in September. There, they alleged that the 2021 compact is prohibited by the state’s constitutional amendment of 2018.

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