Gambling (File)

U.S. Supreme Court Halts Florida Sports Betting Plan

Dealing another victory to the Seminole Tribe of Florida, a federal appeals court has denied a request from pari-mutuel owners for a rehearing after a ruling that upheld a multibillion-dollar deal giving the tribe control over sports betting throughout the state.
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The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday at least temporarily halted an appeals court ruling that would allow the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer sports betting throughout the state.

Chief Justice John Roberts issued an order imposing a stay after the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia this summer upheld a gambling deal between the state and the tribe that included sports betting.

Roberts’ order came after pari-mutuel companies West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. sought a stay as they prepare to ask the Supreme Court to take up a challenge to the appeals-court ruling. The order said what is known as a “mandate,” which is a final step in the appeals-court ruling, is “hereby recalled and stayed pending further order of the undersigned (Roberts) or of the (Supreme) Court.”

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The order did not detail Roberts’ reasons for the decision.

The pari-mutuel companies filed the lawsuit in 2021 after Florida lawmakers ratified the gambling deal, which had been signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. The deal is known as a compact.

While the compact addresses a series of issues, the lawsuit centers on a plan that would allow gamblers to place mobile sports wagers anywhere in the state, with bets handled by computer servers on tribal property. The deal said bets “using a mobile app or other electronic device, shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the tribe.”

The pari-mutuels argue, in part, that the plan was devised to get around a 2018 state constitutional amendment that required voter approval of casino gambling in Florida.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees gambling on tribal lands, allowed the compact to move forward. But the lawsuit contends the compact violated the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, or IGRA, because it authorized gambling off tribal lands.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich in November 2021 ruled against the compact, calling the sports-betting plan a “fiction” and invalidating other parts of the agreement. A panel of the appeals court on June 30 reversed Friedrich’s ruling, and the full appeals court in September refused to reconsider the challenge.

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The appeals-court panel said a 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.’”

Attorneys for the pari-mutuel companies on Oct. 6 filed the request for a stay at the Supreme Court. They also said they planned to file a petition within 45 days asking justices to consider the underlying issues in the case.

In part, the request for a stay said the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does not authorize the interior secretary to approve a compact that allows gambling off tribal lands. Also, the attorneys pointed to potentially far-reaching implications of the appeals-court ruling.

“The circuit (appeals court) opinion raises a question of nationwide importance regarding the ability of states and tribes to use IGRA compacts to provide for gaming off Indian lands,” the request said.

Also, it said the appeals-court ruling could open the door to sports betting in Florida before the Supreme Court could rule on the underlying issues. The request said it is “in the public interest to preserve the status quo.”

“Absent a stay, the compact will give rise to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of sports betting transactions that violate both state and federal law before this (Supreme) Court has the opportunity to address the merits,” the request said. “The circuit opinion enables a dramatic change in public policy on legalized gaming that, once started, may be difficult to stop.”

Roberts’ order gave the Department of Interior and the tribe until Oct. 18 to respond.

The Seminoles in 2021 briefly rolled out the Hard Rock SportsBook mobile app amid the legal wrangling but stopped accepting wagers and deposits on the app after Friedrich’s ruling.

West Flagler holds three jai alai licenses, while Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. does business as Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida.

Meanwhile, the pari-mutuel companies last month filed a separate case at the Florida Supreme Court alleging that the compact runs afoul of the 2018 constitutional amendment. That case is pending.

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