Gov. Ron DeSantis Defends Florida Sports Betting Compact
Posted on: December 4, 2023, 01:27h.
Last updated on: December 9, 2023, 01:46h.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is asking the state’s high court to reject a challenge to the Seminole Tribe’s monopoly on sports betting in the state.
A pair of pari-mutuel companies are asking the Florida Supreme Court to invalidate the 2021 gaming compact between the tribe and the state that opened the door to let the tribe operate an online sportsbook. Lawyers for DeSantis and the legislature say those companies waited too long to bring their challenge and that their claims are without merit.
The case is part of a two-year legal fight led by West Flagler Associates to prevent the tribe from accepting bets over the internet placed from anywhere in the state. West Flagler earlier this year failed to convince a federal appeals court to invalidate the tribal gaming compact, although an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is still expected. In the meantime, the tribe’s Hard Rock Bets platform began accepting wagers from select customers last month, and the state court has refused to expedite its proceedings.
Not until losing its federal appeal did West Flagler take its case to the Florida Supreme Court, asking for a “writ of quo warranto” to effectively undo the actions of the governor and legislature related to the gaming compact.
“Petitioners provide no basis for this Court to upend work approved by three sovereigns in their third-choice legal venue,” the state’s lawyers wrote in a response filed Friday.
By waiting so long to file, the company has undermined its claim to need the court to step in, the governor’s attorneys argued.
Original jurisdiction over quo warranto actions is reserved for truly extraordinary circumstances, where the review of Florida’s highest court is necessary immediately, rather than as a last resort,” the state argues in its response. “That process prevents prejudice to the opposing party that may arise from the uncertainty surrounding extended litigation — here, depriving the State and the Tribe of a mutually beneficial gaming compact.”
The state also argues that West Flagler doesn’t have the authority to seek a writ of quo warranto, which traditionally can only be sought by the state attorney general.
Notwithstanding those procedural issues, the state also argues that West Flagler’s challenge should fail on the merits. That’s because the tribe’s sports betting operation fits within the boundaries of state and federal law. Essentially, because the servers accepting wagers through the Seminole’s Hard Rock Bets platform are located on tribal land, the wagering itself is “deemed” to have taken place there.
The governor faces relatively friendly terrain at the Florida Supreme Court. Five of the seven current justices were appointed by DeSantis, who is pursuing what Politico has described as a “complete makeover” of the court.
While much of the attention on DeSantis’ legal strategy has focused on culture war issues, such as abortion or education as opposed to the future of sports betting, the governor has a strong track record so far. The court’s “right-of-center majority … has repeatedly enabled DeSantis’s political agenda,” the Washington Post reported earlier this year.
In their response to the West Flagler case, the state’s lawyers cite a precedent set by the court earlier this year in the case of State Attorney Andrew Warren, who DeSantis suspended last year. The court rejected Warren’s lawsuit in June, concluding that he waited too long to seek relief by not filing until six months after his suspension.
“[T]he fact that Petitioners bet the farm on successfully defending their dubious district-court victory on appeal, only to lose their federal suit much more slowly than Andrew Warren lost his … is no excuse for their more-than-two-year delay in bringing their state-law claims to this Court,” DeSantis’ lawyers write, “which they knew full well would be live if they lost the appeal.”
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