Feds Ask SCOTUS to Shut Down Florida Firms’ Sports Betting Challenge

The stakes are high, as Florida is the largest state by population with some form of legal sports betting, even if that legality is being challenged in court.

May 14, 2024 • 15:51 ET • 3 min read
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The U.S. Government is asking the highest court in the land to end a long-running legal challenge to online sports betting in the Sunshine State. 

Lawyers for Interior Secretary Deb Haaland submitted a brief on Monday to the U.S. Supreme Court in connection with an attempt by two gaming firms to have the judges review a lower-court decision that resurrected what is now the sports betting status quo in Florida. 

The brief requests that the request for a so-called “writ of certiorari” should be denied for several reasons. Mostly, the federal government believes an appeals court got it right in 2023 by reinstating approval of a sports betting-related gaming agreement between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe. 

“The court of appeals correctly upheld the Compact’s approval by operation of law, and its decision does not conflict with any decision of this Court or another court of appeals,” the brief states. “This Court previously denied petitioners’ application for a stay of the court of appeals’ mandate raising the same contentions. The Court should similarly deny certiorari.”

It was the federal government that took no action on the gaming compact between the state of Florida and its Seminole Tribe in 2021, which then meant that the agreement was considered approved by law. The compact handed the Seminole control over legal sports betting in Florida, and the tribe is taking action in the state at its brick-and-mortar casinos and Hard Rock Bet app.

But that legal structure came under fire through the courts, which shut down Hard Rock in Florida for around two years until the sportsbook relaunched in late 2023 following an appeals court decision favorable to the Seminole-state gaming compact. The federal government is now fighting to uphold that lower-court decision, and if SCOTUS does so, either by rejecting the certiorari request or somewhere further down the road, sports betting in the Sunshine State can continue as it currently does. 

Eyes on the prize

The stakes are high, as Florida is the largest state by population with some form of legal sports betting, even if that legality is being challenged in court. Another challenge was attempted at the state level in Florida, but the Supreme Court there denied the so-called “petition for a writ of quo warranto,” saying it was not the “proper vehicle” for that sort of fight.

Broadly put, West Flagler Associates Ltd. and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., two Florida-based parimutuels owned by the same company, do not believe the federal government should have approved the Seminole-state compact because they see it as authorizing online sports betting off of tribal lands. If that were the case, they charge, it would violate the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act the compact was approved under. 

The West Flagler group also alleges that the online sports wagers placed off Seminole lands are illegal under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and that the compact contravenes the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause because it favors the tribe. Additionally, the companies believe the compact and its sports betting-related provisions are an attempt to get around the Florida constitution, which requires voter approval to expand gambling in the state.

Washington disagrees, and the courts have not disabused them of that opinion lately. The latest brief, which was submitted after SCOTUS approved two extensions to a filing deadline, reasserts that the feds see their stance as correct.

“In any event, the compact in this case is an agreement between two sovereigns—the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe—concerning the Tribe’s own conduct of commercial gaming operations within the State,” the latest brief states. The government has previously explained in this Court why such an agreement between sovereigns does not implicate race-based equal-protection concerns requiring strict scrutiny. But the salient point for present purposes is that petitioners provide no sound basis for this Court to grant review on that equal-protection question in this case.”

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