SCOTUS to Decide Whether to Wade Into Florida’s Ongoing Sports Betting Battle

The legal struggle centers around a few questions, such as whether the compact authorizes online sports betting off Seminole lands.

Geoff Zochodne - Senior News Analyst at
Geoff Zochodne • Senior News Analyst
May 22, 2024 • 16:42 ET • 4 min read
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The metaphorical ball that is federal approval for sports betting in the Sunshine State is now in the literal court of the top judges in the U.S., who must decide whether to wade into the battle over event wagering in Florida.

Yet another document was filed on Tuesday with the U.S. Supreme Court in the matter of West Flagler Associates Ltd., et al, v. Debra Haaland, et al., a.k.a. the Florida sports betting case.

This time it was the West Flagler group, two Florida-based parimutuels owned by the same company, submitting a reply to a brief the federal government filed last week in opposition to the request for SCOTUS to review the matter.

'Plainly unlawful'

The West Flagler group wants the Supreme Court to reconsider a decision made last year by an appeals court that essentially reinstated federal approval for a gaming compact between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe, which granted the latter control over legal sports betting in the Sunshine State.

The legal battle centers around a few questions, such as whether the compact authorizes online sports betting off Seminole lands. Florida has a constitutional requirement for voter approval to expand gambling in the state, with an exception to that rule being gambling that is authorized under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) on tribal lands.

While the appeals court ruled the compact did not authorize sports betting off tribal lands, the West Flagler group begs to differ. 

“As shown in the Petition, the Court of Appeals’ purported ‘interpretation’ of the Compact was nothing more than an effort to uphold an IGRA approval that was plainly unlawful,” Tuesday’s reply states. “The relevant language in the Compact is not ambiguous. Instead, it expressly creates a device designed to authorize sports gaming off Indian lands.”

The West Flagler group is also arguing the compact violates the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which bans the use of certain payment methods for illegal online gambling. 

“If the Compact did not authorize the online sports gaming off Indian lands, and if it is a state law question whether such gambling is lawful (it plainly is not), then the Court was obliged to address that state law question to determine whether the Compact provided for a blatant violation of UIGEA,” the reply says.

Feds: nothing to see here

Furthermore, the West Flagler group is alleging the compact violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, saying in the reply that “there is no doubt that the Compact intends to give the Tribe a race-based monopoly for sports betting off Indian lands.”

“For the Federal government to approve such a compact triggers constitutional scrutiny of the Federal action,” the document adds.

It is for these and other reasons the West Flagler group says the Supreme Court should grant its request for review. And, per Supreme Court rules, there are no documents necessary for the judges to make a decision.

"The centerpiece of the Government’s IGRA argument is that the Court of Appeals correctly interpreted the Compact as not authorizing any sports gaming off Indian lands and therefore the approval of the Compact did not violate IGRA," the reply states. "By contrast, the Government effectively concedes that if the Compact authorized gaming off Indian lands, then its approval would have violated IGRA and the Court of Appeals’ decision would have conflicted with decisions of this Court and other circuits, necessitating review and reversal by this Court."

Whether the court does approve the petition is to be determined, although it rejects the majority of such requests. Still, at stake is the ability to offer sports betting in Florida, a huge prize that is currently the sole property of the Seminole and its Hard Rock Bet sportsbook.

Meanwhile, in the other corner of the legal battle is the federal government, which is going to bat for the Florida-Seminole compact and its approval.

“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 government’s brief stated. “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.”

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