Is Sports Betting Returning to Florida Today? Latest Legal Moves Create Uncertainty

Two Florida gaming companies filed a request for a stay of the mandate issued by the D.C. appeals court, pending an attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court review the matter.

Last Updated: Sep 18, 2023 10:29 AM ET Read Time: 4 min
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A last-minute court filing means the status of legal sports betting in the Sunshine State is back up in the air. 

Two Florida gaming companies petitioned a federal appeals court on Friday to pause an earlier ruling from coming into effect that could allow the Seminole Tribe to offer its online sports betting sites in the state once more. 

Without that pause, the decision will take effect today, which could pave the way for a return of legal Florida sports betting through Seminole-controlled channels. The two companies, though, aim to stop that from happening, at least for now, while they prepare a bid to have the Supreme Court hear the case. 

“In addition, without a stay of the mandate, the Tribe shortly will effect a major expansion of gaming in Florida by releasing a mobile phone application that will permit online sports betting throughout the state,” the filing states. “Although Supreme Court review could later result in the Tribe’s discontinuance of such gaming, the interim harm caused by the conduct of unlawful gaming in Florida against the wishes of Florida voters cannot be undone.” 

Friday’s filing means the exact date that legal sports betting returns to Florida remains a question mark, with the potential for further court battles that need sorting before the wagering can resume. The response from the federal government has yet to come. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Seminole Tribe said they had nothing new to share as of Monday morning

The Seminole launched their Hard Rock Bet sportsbook in Florida in the fall of 2021 after striking a new gaming agreement in the state that, among other things, gave the tribe control over legal sports betting. 

However, Hard Rock Bet shut down in Florida after a court set aside federal approval of the gaming compact, a decision that was appealed by the U.S. government and continues to be fought over in the courts.

A decision earlier this year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the lower-court ruling and reinstated the compact, but there was a weeklong lag period before the judgment took effect. An attempt by the two gaming companies to have the entire appeals court rehear the matter was rejected last week.

The IGRA issue

West Flagler Associates Ltd. and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. then filed on Friday their request for a stay of the mandate issued by the D.C. appeals court, pending an attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court review the matter.

The two gaming companies claim the D.C. court's ruling, which effectively reinstates a gaming compact between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe, "presents an important question" on which West Flager and Bonita-Fort Myers would like the Supreme Court to weigh.

Among other things, the companies (one of which still owns a casino in the state) claim the appeals court's interpretation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) creates a path "to grant exclusive statewide Internet gaming franchises to Indian tribes," the filing states. 

"This understanding contradicted Congress' clear intent in enacting IGRA which was to provide for gaming 'on Indian lands,' not to provide a means to introduce Internet gaming statewide," the filing adds. "The Panel Opinion further authorizes the [Secretary of the Interior] to provide such approval even where—as here—the law of the state prohibits the type of gambling in question if conducted off Indian lands."

These decisions differ from those of other courts in interpreting IGRA, the companies say, "and allow for its misuse in a manner that Congress did not and could not have intended." 

Questions need answering

This is what raises the "substantial question," the filing notes.

“Similarly, the holding of the Panel Opinion that rational basis scrutiny applies to the Secretary’s federal approval of a state government’s award of a statewide gaming monopoly based on race and ancestry is a ‘substantial question’ warranting Supreme Court review,” it adds.

Furthermore, there is "good cause" to stay the ruling as a matter of public policy, the casinos say, such as other states and tribes following suit. The decision will "upset the status quo” in Florida by allowing the Seminole to offer online sports betting sites in the state, and do so without a referendum as is otherwise required in the state to expand gaming. 

“The Panel Opinion thus enables an extreme shift in public policy on legalized gaming that, once started, may be difficult to stop,” the filing states. “It therefore is in the public interest to preserve the status quo with respect to online gaming until such time as the Supreme Court has had a chance to review Appellees’ petition for a writ of certiorari."

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