Sports Betting's Return Won’t Permanently Harm Florida, DOI Tells Supreme Court

A response was filed by the Department of the Interior on Wednesday to a recent request by two gaming companies to the U.S. Supreme Court to stay an appeals judgment released earlier this year regarding sports betting in the Sunshine State.

Oct 18, 2023 • 13:41 ET • 2 min read
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The U.S. federal government is telling the top judges in the country there is no need to further pause a lower-court ruling that could return legal sports betting to the Sunshine State. 

A response was filed by the Department of the Interior on Wednesday to a recent request by two gaming companies to the U.S. Supreme Court to stay an appeals judgment released earlier this year regarding Florida sports betting.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in June essentially reinstated a gaming agreement between the state of Florida and its Seminole Tribe. That compact granted the Seminole exclusivity over retail and online sports betting sites in the state, but it was thrown out in late 2021, prompting a shutdown of the tribe’s Hard Rock Bet sportsbook in Florida. 

However, the appeals court ruling teed up a possible return of Hard Rock to Florida. Then came further legal wrangling in the appeals court, followed by the recent request to the Supreme Court to stay the decision while the gaming companies petitioned for a full review of the case. 

U.S. Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts ordered last Thursday that the appeal court’s mandate be recalled and stayed pending any further order from the top judges. The Supreme Court gave the DOI until this Wednesday to respond to the application for a stay.

Playing the classics

The response filed by the DOI hits many of the same notes played in the lower courts, namely, that the Florida compact is consistent with federal gaming law and the DOI was within its rights to approve the agreement. A federal judge disagreed with this in 2021 over the compact's online sports betting provisions, sparking the ongoing appeals process.

“Each of those contentions lacks merit, and none presents a conflict with any decision of this Court or another court of appeals,” the DOI reply on Wednesday states. “The Court therefore is not reasonably likely to grant certiorari [review], and there is no fair prospect that the Court would reverse the court of appeals’ judgment if it did grant review.”

The federal government also claims the gaming companies are failing to show they will suffer “irreparable harm” that would prompt the Supreme Court’s intervention, another reason why a stay is unnecessary. While West Flagler Associates Ltd. and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. claim the appeal-court decision will cause a “major shift” in public policy and harm residents, the feds say those fears are misplaced.

“Florida’s Legislature -- presumably acting in its citizens’ best interests and reflecting its own understanding of the Florida constitution -- enacted a statute in 2021 specifically authorizing the internet sports betting addressed in the Compact,” the DOI reply says. “Florida’s Governor, also presumably acting on behalf of the State’s citizenry, entered into the Compact on behalf of the State, representing for the State that the gaming activities discussed therein ‘comply in all respects with the Florida Constitution.’”

The DOI and the gaming companies will now wait for the Supreme Court's next order.

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