It’s now a two-front legal battle over the legality of Florida sports betting. Late Monday, the plaintiffs in the federal case seeking to block the state’s compact with the Seminole Tribe also filed suit in the state Supreme Court.
The new lawsuit by West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. comes as a federal appeals court is considering their request for a stay on a mandate to reverse a lower federal court ruling two years ago that threw out the compact reached between Seminole leaders and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. If the stay is not granted, it would open the door for the tribe to resume online sports betting across the state, which it operated for about a month late in 2021.
The Seminole Tribe launched Hard Rock Sportsbook - now Hard Rock Bet Florida - after state officials and the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the gaming compact, giving the tribe, among other things, statewide online sports betting exclusivity. West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers, which operated gaming establishments in the state, claimed the federal government should not have approved the compact because it exceeded the scope of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor in November 2021. The plaintiffs also argued the compact violated the state constitution, which requires voter approval on any non-tribal gaming expansion.
Monday’s lawsuit has been expected for some time. In its June opinion, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said that questions about the compact violating state law should be answered by state courts.
Plaintiffs: Constitutional Rights Violated
In the 76-page filing to the Florida Supreme Court, the plaintiffs contend that DeSantis and legislative leaders exceeded their authority by approving a tribal gaming compact that gave the Seminoles exclusive rights to online sports betting in the state. West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers want the state court to confirm that gaming expansion off tribal lands requires a successful petition drive to get a constitutional amendment referendum on the ballot and voters approving that measure.
DeSantis and legislative leaders “have directly violated the Peoples’ exclusive constitutional right to approve expansion of casino gambling by citizens’ initiative,” the complaint states. “The fact that the Governor is charged with negotiating the Compact does not supplant the constitutional authority of the People to decide whether to expand gambling.”
Federal Government Argues Stay Not Necessary
While the plaintiffs seek the state court’s intervention, they also plan to appeal the June ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. As they prepare for that appeal, their lawyers have asked the federal circuit court to issue a stay on its mandate. The original federal district court order would remain in place if the stay is granted. If the request for a stay is denied, the mandate would be sent to the district court to overturn its November 2021 decision.
Hours earlier on Monday, the federal government filed its response to the plaintiffs’ request for a stay, arguing that such action is unnecessary because the Interior Department and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland acted appropriately when reviewing the compact.
“This Court reached a narrow, case-specific holding about the meaning of particular language in one particular Compact under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” the government’s response stated. “Its decision makes explicitly clear that the Compact does not purport to—and as a matter of law, could not—authorize the gaming activities outside Indian land that West Flagler believes are illegal, and that West Flagler’s dispute is instead with the Florida law that does authorize those activities.”
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