US Supreme Court to Determine Seminole Online Sports Betting Outcome

Posted on: March 21, 2024, 03:16h. 

Last updated on: April 12, 2024, 05:14h.

The United States Supreme Court will presumably determine the ultimate fate of the Seminole Tribe’s Class III gaming compact that it struck with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in 2021.

Florida gaming compact Seminole Tribe
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. smile after signing the tribe’s updated Class III gaming compact on May 19, 2021. Nearly three years later, the legality of the controversial gaming expansion package, which includes online sports betting, remains tied up in federal and state courts. (Image: Seminole Tribe of Florida)

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a petition brought by West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation that challenged the constitutionality of allowing a tribe to accept sports bets via the internet.

The petitioners claimed the 2021 compact — which, along with retail and online sports betting privileges for the Tribe, additionally included rights to craps and roulette inside the Seminoles’ land-based casinos — violated a 2018 amendment to the Florida Constitution. Amendment 3, passed with more than 70% support, says Florida voters “have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.”  

In dismissing the petition, the Florida Supreme Court explained that West Flagler/Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. filed the wrong type of petition to challenge the compact.

Framed as it is, the petition presents nothing other than a challenge to the substantive constitutionality of the law ratifying the compact,” the state’s highest court wrote. “But quo warranto is not, and has never been, the proper vehicle to obtain declaration as to the substantive constitutionality of an enacted law.

“For that reason, we deny the petition, because the relief that Petitioners seek is beyond what the writ of quo warranto provides,” the decision continued.

The ruling, however, opens the door for West Flagler/Bonita-Fort Myers to refile the challenge in Leon County Circuit Court, noted gaming attorney Daniel Wallach tweeted on X.

Federal Lawsuit Ongoing

West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers own the Bonita Springs Poker Room, located between Naples and Fort Myers. The group previously owned the Magic City Casino in Miami.

In a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior, which approved the 2021 Seminole compact, West Flagler/Bonita-Fort Myers alleges that DeSantis and the Florida Legislature violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The federal law requires that Class III gaming operate only on a tribe’s sovereign land.

State and Tribal attorneys say the compact doesn’t, since the online sportsbook servers remain on Seminole territory.

A federal appeals court for the District of Columbia last fall refused to hold an “en banc” hearing including all 11 judges. The circuit court last August ruled against West Flagler/Bonita-Fort Myers’ assertions that the Florida compact with the Seminoles violates IGRA.

The case has since been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. There’s no word on when the highest court in the nation might decide whether to accept the case. But if it doesn’t, West Flagler/Bonita-Fort Myers’ legal options would be near exhaustion. The possible state case in Leon County would be a last resort.

Far-Reaching Implications

The Seminoles’ online sports betting operations in Florida returned in November. People aged 21 and older can currently place a wager from anywhere inside the Sunshine State through the Hard Rock Bet online sportsbook.

If the Seminoles prevail in their legal defense that they aren’t violating the IGRA by maintaining the online sportsbook servers on Tribal land, the consequences could be far-reaching.

Legal experts say such an outcome could result in tribes across the country possessing Class III gaming compacts to begin taking sports bets over the internet. Many tribes might also decide they are legally allowed to operate iGaming.