U.S. Supreme Court Wades into Florida's Legal Sports Betting Fight

Any relaunch of Hard Rock Bet in the Sunshine State will have to wait a little longer.

Geoff Zochodne - Senior News Analyst at Covers.com
Geoff Zochodne • Senior News Analyst
Oct 12, 2023 • 15:55 ET • 2 min read
Florida State Seminoles sports betting
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

The highest court in the land is wading into the fight over legal sports betting — or not — in Florida.

U.S. Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts on Thursday ordered that the mandate of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit be recalled and stayed pending any further order from the top judges.

That mandate could have made it possible for the Seminole Tribe of Florida to relaunch its Hard Rock Bet sportsbook in the state, as it operated there briefly before shutting down in late 2021 because of a legal defeat at a lower court.

The appeals court essentially sided with the tribe and the federal government earlier this year and effectively reinstated a gaming compact providing for tribal-controlled Florida sports betting.

However, last week, two Florida gaming companies applied to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of the mandate pending their still-to-come request for Roberts and company to review the case. Roberts ordered on Thursday that the Department of the Interior file a response to that application before next Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET.

Chiefly at issue is whether the gaming compact struck between the Seminole and the state of Florida in 2021, which includes the ability to offer tribal-powered online sports betting sites, can enable that sort of mobile wagering off tribal lands. The gaming companies argue it does not and have noted the Florida constitution requires a referendum to expand such gambling — unless it is on tribal lands.

“There is also good cause for the stay as a matter of public policy,” the stay application from West Flagler Associates Ltd., and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. states. “Unless the mandate is stayed, the Circuit Opinion will upset the status quo in Florida by permitting the Tribe to conduct online sports gaming throughout the State, even though the Florida Constitution prohibits any such gaming absent a citizens’ initiative, and [the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act] prohibits use of the internet to transmit payments between a jurisdiction where gambling is illegal (Florida) and one where it is legal (the Tribe’s land).”

But the federal government has gone to bat for the compact, and the appeals court sided with them this summer.

“We see the case differently,” the D.C. decision said, adding that “to be sure, an [ Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] gaming compact can legally authorize a tribe to conduct gaming only on its own lands. But at the same time, IGRA does not prohibit a gaming compact—which is, at bottom, an agreement between a tribe and a state—from discussing other topics, including those governing activities ‘outside Indian lands[.]’”

The appeal court judges said the lower court was mistaken in “reading into the Compact a legal effect it does not (and cannot) have,” which was authorizing online sports betting outside of the tribe’s lands. 

“Rather, the Compact itself authorizes only the betting that occurs on the Tribe’s lands; in this respect, it satisfied IGRA,” the appeals court said. “Whether it is otherwise lawful for a patron to place bets from non-tribal land within Florida may be a question for that State’s courts, but it is not the subject of this litigation and not for us to decide.”

Let the lawyering continue

There is another attempted legal challenge of the compact pending before the Florida Supreme Court. An outcome there could be a ways off. 

In the meantime, the latest legal maneuvering will keep Hard Rock (and Hard Rock most likely alone) from returning to Florida for at least a little while longer, even if the odds are against the U.S. Supreme Court hearing the case. 

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