Florida Oral Arguments Set Stage for Sports Betting-Related Ruling in New Year

While the sports-betting industry awaits a judgment in the Florida compact case, the Sunshine State still has no legal options for online or retail event wagering.

Dec 15, 2022 • 16:38 ET • 3 min read
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A ruling on the case that could decide the future of sports betting in Florida is on track to arrive next year after interested parties argued their positions on Wednesday before a panel of judges.

Lawyers on behalf of the U.S. federal government, the state of Florida, and two casinos appeared in front of three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for oral arguments. 

After an hour-and-a-half of input from the lawyers, as well as questions from the bench, the judges said they would take the case under advisement. A decision on the matter will likely come at some point in the first half of 2023, according to sports betting attorney Daniel Wallach.

The arguments made Wednesday are in connection with a federal judge’s decision last year to throw out a compact agreed to between Florida and the state’s Seminole Tribe that, among other things, allowed the latter to offer retail and online sports betting sites.

In return for the effective monopoly on legal sports betting in the Sunshine State, the Seminole agreed to make payments to the government, including $2.5 billion over the first five years of the 30-year gaming arrangement. 

After being approved by the Florida legislature, the compact was sent to the Department of the Interior for another approval, which was technically received after the secretary of the interior took no action on the agreement.

That, however, did not meet with the approval of the owners of the Magic City Casino in Miami (West Flagler Associates) and the Bonita Springs Poker Room (Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation), who challenged the federal government’s approval of the compact over its online sports betting provisions. Among other things, the casinos argued the gambling allowed by the compact threatened to harm their businesses. 

Federal Judge Dabney Friedrich then ruled in November of 2021 that the compact violated key provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) — the law that “creates a framework for regulating gaming activity on Indian lands” — by authorizing gambling both on and off those lands. 

Friedrich set aside the government’s approval of the compact. This ultimately had the effect of stopping the online sports betting in Florida that had been happening through the Seminole-owned Hard Rock Sportsbook for about a month. 

The federal government appealed Friedrich’s decision and the legal proceeding has been grinding its way through the court ever since

“I think that the main points are simply… that the secretary acted lawfully here, the district court's conclusion was based on an error of federal contract law interpretation, and West Flagler’s much broader argument should be rejected,” said Rachel Heron, a lawyer for the federal government, during Wednesday’s proceedings. “And for that reason, the court should reverse.”

Cruel and unusual 

Hamish Hume, a lawyer for West Flagler, was fairly blunt about their position, telling the court that IGRA required the interior secretary to reject the compact because it aimed to authorize gambling off the Seminole’s lands. 

The casino owners seemed particularly vexed about the federal government’s position on online betting, which the lawyer for West Flagler said was seeking to allow mobile wagering off the Seminole lands even while claiming in briefs that IGRA cannot authorize that. 

“What they're saying makes no sense and is going to be a cruel joke if this court accepts the argument,” Hume said at one point. 

Herron, however, said there was no way under the law to “have it both ways,” as Hume had said. 

“The secretary did act lawfully,” Herron said. “The district court's contrary conclusion was based on an error of law, although admittedly a relatively narrow one that was specific to the facts of this case and the language of the compact that the secretary was reviewing.” 

Wednesday’s proceedings leave lawyers, bettors, and bookies all awaiting a decision that could dictate their next moves. 

If the compact were reinstated, Hard Rock could start taking bets again in Florida. And if not, DraftKings, FanDuel, and others could take another run at getting a sports betting-related question on the 2024 election ballot, which they failed to do in 2022. 

There is also the potential for a further appeal, up to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, there are no legal sports betting options in Florida.

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