Florida Sports Betting Case Still Grinding its Way Through the Courts

Another filing in the longstanding legal battle over sports betting in Florida suggests there is still a long way to go before the matter is finally settled.

Last Updated: Oct 4, 2022 12:02 PM ET Read Time: 3 min
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The legal battle over Florida sports betting is chugging along in the court system, but a final resolution could still be many months away.

An indication of the long road ahead came in another brief filed this week in the United States Court of Appeals regarding the case that cut short legal sports betting in the Sunshine State. 

Monday's filing is part of an effort to sort out whether the federal government should be the main defendant in an Administrative Procedure Act (APA) challenge, which in this case was launched over a sports betting-related compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. 

"The federal government is generally the only required and indispensable defendant in an APA challenge to the legality of the government’s own actions," the brief states.

Previously on...

It's the latest round of paperwork in what has been a long-running legal drama. That drama began when the Seminoles and Florida entered into a gaming compact in 2021 that granted the tribe control over retail and online sports betting in the state and that was deemed approved by the federal government. 

However, a legal challenge by two Florida gaming rooms, whose businesses could face new competition from tribal-run sports betting, resulted in a judge vacating the federal government’s approval of the Seminole compact and halting wagering in the state after about a month. 

The federal government has appealed that decision, which stated the Florida-Seminole agreement 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. 

A flurry of legal filings has now been lodged in appeals court, including the latest salvo from the federal government.

In short, the Seminole Tribe tried to intervene in the lower-court proceedings and argued it was a "required party" under the rules, "and that equity and good conscience demand that the challenge to federal action be dismissed in its absence," Monday's filing notes.

The tribe’s bid was rejected, but the Seminole appealed and attempted to stay the lower-court decision, which was denied as well. 

Now, after the cases were consolidated, the federal government is trying to clear up whether it is the only “required” defendant in the case. Although the government and tribe agree that the lower-court decision should be undone and that sports betting in Florida should proceed as it briefly did, there is a split in opinion between the two parties on why, exactly.

“While the federal government and the Tribe both seek reversal, the Tribe’s preferred path is in tension with circuit precedent and, if adopted, could functionally nullify the APA’s waiver of federal sovereign immunity in the wide swath of cases where federal agency action benefits a tribe or state that cannot be joined to litigation without consent,” the government argues in its latest brief. “Thus, while this Court should reverse for the reasons stated in the government’s appeal, the district court’s denial of the Tribe’s motion should not be disturbed.”  

Take the 'Over' on time

The latest filings in the case suggest there is still a way to go before the issue of sports betting in Florida is settled. Outside of the courts, an attempt by online sportsbook operators DraftKings and FanDuel to put a proposed constitutional amendment on Florida’s 2022 election ballot fell short as well

So, in the meantime, what could be one of the biggest markets in the United States for legal event wagering remains stuck in limbo, with no authorized channel for bettors.

A higher-court ruling on the merits of the federal government’s arguments hasn’t been issued yet, either, and whether they will pass muster remains to be seen. 

“If this is their best argument on appeal, Floridians may be waiting several more years for the return of legal online sports betting,” sports-betting attorney Daniel Wallach wrote recently in Forbes

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