West Flagler Files Response in Florida Sports Betting Case Before Supreme Court

Posted on: May 22, 2024, 09:14h. 

Last updated on: May 22, 2024, 12:29h.

West Flagler Associates this week filed its reply brief in its lawsuit against the US federal government challenging its approval of Florida’s online sports betting pact with the Seminole Tribe.

Florida sports betting Supreme Court West Flagler
The online Hard Rock Bet sportsbook continues to operate in Florida as a federal lawsuit challenging the legality of tribal sports wagering via the internet plays out. The US Supreme Court is expected to determine whether to hear the appeal in the coming weeks. (Image: Fox 13 Tampa Bay)

Attorneys representing West Flagler, which owns the Bonita Springs Poker Room and formerly the Magic City Casino in Miami, are asking the US Supreme Court to hear their arguments that the Class III gaming compact reached by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the Seminole Tribe in 2021 violates federal law.

The plaintiffs allege the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) limits tribal gaming via state compacts to tribal land, and the 2021 terms providing the tribe to facilitate online sports bets infringes on the federal statute.

Replying to the Department of the Interior’s petition for dismissal filed earlier this month, West Flagler contends that the federal government’s very explanation as to why the case should be rejected is precisely why it should be accepted.

Plea for Case Review

In the reply brief, West Flagler’s legal team asserts that the Interior Department shouldn’t have approved the Florida compact because it allows people to participate in tribal gaming off of tribal land.

The Government effectively concedes that if the Compact authorized gaming off Indian lands, then its approval would have violated IGRA and the Court of Appeals’ decision would have conflicted with decisions of this Court and other circuits, necessitating review and reversal by this Court,” the West Flagler brief read.

“The central IGRA question boils down to whether the Court of Appeals properly held that it could ‘interpret’ the Compact as not authorizing sports gaming off Indian lands. If it did, then no review is warranted. If it did not, then even the Government implicitly concedes that review and reversal are needed. As shown in the Petition, the Court of Appeals’ purported ‘interpretation’ of the Compact was nothing more than an effort to uphold an IGRA approval that was plainly unlawful,” the brief continued.

State attorneys, as well as counsel with the federal government, argue that since the Seminole Tribe’s online sportsbook computer servers remain on tribal land, the facilitation of remote sports bets doesn’t run afoul of the IGRA. They assert that the gambling is still taking place on tribal land because the bet isn’t facilitated until it reaches the servers.

“This is absurd,” West Flagler’s brief responded. “The substance is that the Court of Appeals upheld the IGRA approval of a Compact that adopted a transparent device that was intended to use an IGRA compact to authorize gambling off Indian lands by pretending that it occurred on Indian lands.” 

Possible Outcomes

There are three possible outcomes for the West Flagler petition.

The Supreme Court can accept and proceed with the case, which would be expected to begin late this year or in early 2025. The court could also reject the case or issue a summary reversal of the lower court’s decision that the compact was valid.

The Supreme Court grants less than 5% of the case petitions it receives each year.

Hard Rock Bet resumed operations in Florida in December. Retail sportsbooks operate at each of the tribe’s six brick-and-mortar casinos and online bets remain allowed pending the SCOTUS decision.