Florida Sports Betting: West Flagler Asks State Supreme Court to Intervene

Posted on: September 27, 2023, 06:43h. 

Last updated on: September 27, 2023, 01:44h.

Florida gambling interests who oppose a plan to give the Seminole Tribe exclusive control of sports betting in the state are asking the state’s highest court to step in.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks in New Hampshire on June 1, 2023. DeSantis is being taken to the state’s highest court over his decision to give the Seminole Tribe exclusive access to sports betting in Florida. (Image: The New York Times)

The owners of two South Florida gaming establishments are asking the Florida Supreme Court to effectively invalidate a Class III Tribal-State Gaming Compact with the Seminole Tribe. The compact, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in 2021, would give the tribe a monopoly on sports betting in the state through its existing casinos and online Hard Rock Bet sportsbook.

The compact has been on hold for most of the past two years amid an ongoing federal court challenge. West Flagler Associates, which operates the Bonita Springs Poker Room in South Florida, has been leading that case. Still, its options are dwindling following a series of losses at the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit earlier this year.

Opponents believe the gaming compact violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act by allowing off-reservation gaming through the mobile sportsbook. Supporters of the deal say it is legal because the sportsbook computer servers accepting bets would be located on tribal land.

Federal Court Avenues Dwindling

West Flagler failed to convince the full D.C. Circuit to rehear a decision by a three-judge panel upholding the tribal gaming compact, leaving the US Supreme Court as its only remaining outlet for federal intervention. The company has asked the D.C. Circuit to stay its ruling to allow it to mount a Supreme Court appeal.

The Department of Interior, which regulates tribal gaming at the federal level, told the D.C. Circuit in a filing this week that further delay would be inappropriate.

In its initial ruling, the appeals court panel “makes explicitly clear that the Compact does not purport to—and as a matter of law, could not—authorize the gaming activities outside Indian land that West Flagler believes are illegal, and that West Flagler’s dispute is instead with the Florida law that does authorize those activities,” Interior wrote in a filing Monday.

“West Flagler’s assertion that this Court’s opinion nevertheless raises questions of exceptional importance rests on the same misreading of the opinion advanced in its unsuccessful petition for rehearing en banc.”

State Writ Sought

Now, West Flagler and its allies are taking their case to the highest court in the Sunshine State.

In a petition filed on Monday, West Flagler asks the Florida Supreme Court to issue a “Writ of Quo Warranto” directed at DeSantis and state legislative leaders, declaring that they violated the state constitution by allowing the tribal gaming compact to go forward.

The petition argues that DeSantis and the state legislature violated the Florida Constitution’s requirement that any off-reservation gambling be subject to a statewide ballot before going into effect.

The Seminole compact represents “a clear expansion of casino gambling in Florida without a voter-approved constitutional amendment by citizens’ initiative, as required by Article X, Section 30,” petitioners argue.

Petitioners ask the court to declare that DeSantis and the legislature have exceeded their authority and that the only way to allow off-reservation sports betting in Florida is by putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to approve.