Another Florida Legal Challenge Launched Over Sports Betting Agreement with Seminole

The return of legal sports betting to the Sunshine State, even in its limited form, could be delayed further by a new constitutional challenge at the state level.

Last Updated: Sep 26, 2023 1:05 PM ET Read Time: 4 min
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the issue of legal sports betting in the Sunshine State is the subject of a court challenge. 

This time, however, the case is being brought before the Supreme Court of Florida, which two gaming companies are asking to shut down any online sports betting sites authorized by a 2021 agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe.

The constitutional challenge could further delay the return of event wagering to Florida, even in the limited form authorized by lawmakers. 

“The 2021 Compact and Implementing Law are a clear expansion of casino gambling in Florida without a voter-approved constitutional amendment by citizens’ initiative,” states the so-called petition for writ of quo warranto. “In so doing, the Respondents have exceeded their authority in direct violation of the Florida Constitution.”

Here we go again (kinda)

West Flagler Associates Ltd., Bonita Springs Poker Room, and Isadore Havenick are the ones requesting the crackdown on Florida sports betting by the state’s Supreme Court.

The two companies are also involved in separate litigation at the federal level that is more or less intended to achieve the same result

At issue once more is the 2021 gaming compact struck by the Seminole Tribe and Florida that gave the former control over sports betting in the state. The Seminole launched their Hard Rock Bet sportsbook in Florida in late 2021 but then shut it down about a month later after a court threw out federal approval of the compact. An appeals court reversed that decision earlier this year, but the legal battle there is not yet over.

The Florida Supreme Court challenge unveiled on Tuesday is at the state level and separate from the federal action. Even so, it could bog down the process of returning sports betting to Florida in the limited fashion allowed, which was and would be through the Seminole and their Hard Rock brand. 

Florida’s latest sports betting-related legal challenge is also aimed at the gaming compact for different reasons, namely, that it expands gambling in the state without a voter referendum. 

“The appellate court’s reasoning makes clear the need for this Court’s review,” Tuesday’s filing states. “Specifically, it concluded that the 2021 Compact did not and could not authorize off-Indian lands gaming under [the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] where such gaming would violate state law, and, instead, such question was a matter of state law.”

'A transparent artifice'

Tuesday’s challenge also notes Florida voters approved amending the state constitution in 2018 to require any expansion of casino gambling should go through the same process and be approved by 60% of voters. The only exception, the filing says, is if the gambling is happening on tribal lands via a compact under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). 

That is what happened with the 2021 compact, as it was approved by the state and essentially authorized by the federal government. However, the 2021 agreement with the Seminole gave them "the exclusive right to offer off-reservation online and in-person sports betting throughout the entire state," the challenge states, which the companies argue means Gov. Ron DeSantis and the legislature exceeded their authority.

“The Governor and Legislature have attempted to avoid the Florida Constitution’s mandate by having the 2021 Compact and the Implementing Law ‘deem’ online bets placed anywhere in the state to have occurred ‘exclusively’ on tribal lands where the bets are received—a transparent artifice that seeks to satisfy the exception in Article X, Section 30(c) for ‘gambling on tribal lands’ pursuant to IGRA compacts,” the challenge says. 

The gaming companies want the Florida Supreme Court to declare lawmakers exceeded their authority to the extent they enabled "off-reservation" sports betting across the state and that a voter-approved constitutional amendment by citizens is the only way to authorize such wagering. 

“Upon such declaration by this Court, the offending provisions of both the 2021 Compact and Implementing Law will automatically be severed from the non-offending provisions,” the filing says.

Furthermore, the companies want the court to suspend the sports betting-related provisions of the compact until a final decision is reached, "in order to preserve the status quo," as they claim their poker and parimutuel businesses will take a hit from statewide online sports betting. 

It is early days for the new legal challenge, and the governor and legislature have yet to respond.

This time around, though, Florida lawmakers will have to get more directly involved, and West Flagler and its allies claim they tried to dodge the state’s constitutional requirements.

“But the Florida Constitution cannot be so easily avoided,” the new challenge states. “The Governor and Legislature’s fiction does not change the reality that the Governor and Legislature are seeking to authorize gambling that takes place off Indian lands.” 

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