The ongoing legal dispute regarding online sports betting in Florida persists, following a recent stay granted by the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) on a decision made by the District of Columbia Circuit United States Court of Appeals and the subsequent response of the US Department of Interior (DOI).
However, the response from the DOI, in which the federal agency asked the SCOTUS to dismiss the hold arguing that it’s unwarranted, could pave the way for the highest court in the nation to clear the Seminole Tribe for the relaunch of mobile sports betting in Florida.
On June 30th, the District of Columbia Circuit United States Court of Appeals affirmed that the Department of the Interior had acted in accordance with its prescribed authority by permitting the Seminole compact with the state of Florida to take effect under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
However, a parimutuel company named West Flagler Associates (WFA) asked the same court to reconsider the panel decision which issued a stay until they could bring this to the highest court in the US legal system.
Once again, the DC Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled against them but attorneys for WFA immediately asked the Supreme Court of the United States to grant a stay until the body could consider whether it would hear the case.
It was a long shot but Justice John Roberts issued a temporary recall of the decision and granted the stay WFA was seeking until the SCOTUS could review the application to hear the case.
Now, the DOI has responded to that decision arguing that it’s unwarranted. With this step the U.S. Supreme Court could make up its mind any day now and if Roberts decides to stop the hold, this could pave the way for the Seminole Tribe to launch mobile sports betting.
Florida’s Online Gaming Market in Limbo
The Seminole Indian Tribe wants to protect a deal that named them the sole provider of mobile sports betting in the Sunshine State but West Flagler Associates seeks to change this.
They initially won the first legal round when U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled against the compact in 2021, calling the sports-betting plan a “fiction” and invalidating other parts of the agreement. The judge also pointed out that the servers that receive the bets are on tribal lands but the bets are being placed all over Florida, which is not allowed.
The Department of the Interior wasn’t happy with that ruling as they were the federal agency that had to sign off on the deal, one in which the Seminoles agreed to pay the state as much as $2.5 billion over the first five years of a 30-year pact.
Hence, the ruling was appealed to the DC Circuit US Court of Appeals and they reversed the lower court ruling in favor of the DOI in September, stating the compact allowed mobile betting by the Seminoles. That would have paved the way for the Seminole Tribe to relaunch sports betting in Florida after having done so in November of 2021 only to have to shut it down a little over a month later.
West Flagler has also brought another lawsuit at the state level arguing that no expansion of gambling can occur without the voters agreeing to it.
The lawsuit states:
“Unless this (Florida Supreme) Court grants this petition, casino gambling throughout the state in the form of off-reservation in-person and mobile sports betting will take effect without the approval by the voters of Florida, as explicitly required by the text of Article X, Section 30 of the Florida Constitution.
“(…) Further, since the current status of the case is that the 2021 compact is valid under federal law, review of the legality of off-reservation sports betting under state law is urgent.”
Daniel Wallach, an attorney who specializes in gambling law, told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday:
“Do I think online sports betting will ultimately be allowed under the compact? It’s probably a better than 50 percent chance that the Seminole Tribe will end up … having the ability to roll out online sports betting.
“But the key question for today is one of timing. What is known is these parallel judicial proceedings will likely cause further delay in the timing of the rollout of online sports betting.”, he added.