Monday is the day a federal appeals court is supposed to issue a mandate that would allow Hard Rock Bet Florida to go back online. However, plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior asked late Friday night that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hold off on that move while they take the case to the Supreme Court.
Attorneys for West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Meyers Corp. argued in a 22-page filing there were several reasons to refrain from requiring U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich to reverse her November 2021 order that threw out the gaming compact reached between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe. That compact gave the tribe exclusive rights to offer online and Florida sportsbooks apps across the state and other additional gaming opportunities. The plaintiffs in the case operate pari-mutuel gaming operations in Florida, which they claim will be harmed if online sports betting restarts.
Plaintiffs sued the Interior Department two years ago, arguing that the compact should not have been approved because it violated federal tribal gaming laws because the compact included gaming that takes place off of tribal lands. Friedrich agreed with West Flager, which at the time owned Magic City Casino, and Bonita-Fort Meyers, which owns the Bonita Springs Poker Room. Her order eventually led to the Seminole Tribe, which launched its Hard Rock sports betting app in November 2021, from suspending its operations after the Florida-based tribal nation could not get a stay of its own on Friedrich’s order.
In June, a three-judge panel from the D.C. federal appeals court issued an opinion overturning Friedrich’s decision. The plaintiffs then asked for the entire circuit to review the case. However, last Monday, the circuit denied that request. That decision started a seven-day timeframe allowing West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Meyers to seek a stay as they considered appealing the case to the nation’s top court.
Plaintiffs Claim Opinion Expands IGRA
In their request for a stay, lawyers for the plaintiffs claim the appeals court judges’ opinion “significantly expands” the scope of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the 35-year-old federal law that gives the Department of the Interior oversight authority on tribal gaming matters. Under IGRA, the department must review any gaming compact between a state and a federally recognized tribe to ensure it complies with federal laws. Two years ago, the Interior Department failed to review the compact within the required 45-day window, which meant that the agreement was considered approved to the extent it complied with IGRA.
In their opinion overturning the federal district court’s ruling, the circuit court panel said that the federal government can’t dictate to a state what gaming occurs outside of tribal lands. Plaintiffs have argued that including statewide online sports betting in the compact goes against the state constitution. Five years ago, Florida voters passed an amendment requiring voter approval for any gaming expansion taking place off tribal lands.
“This novel interpretation of IGRA lays the groundwork for future abuses of IGRA, as a tribe and state now may use an IGRA compact to expand tribal gaming throughout an entire state, and the Secretary (of the Interior) has no obligation to disapprove—or even question—the propriety of that agreement,” the motion for a stay stated. “Although the panel opinion suggests that state courts may review the propriety of such an agreement, tribes may well successfully assert sovereign immunity to avoid any such inquiry, thereby permitting state officials and tribes to use the federal IGRA process to circumvent state restrictions on expansions of gaming.”
More To Come In Florida Sports Betting Case
Even if the circuit court declines the plaintiffs’ motion for a stay, it does not mean the case will be settled. Plaintiffs will still, as they state in the motion, ask the Supreme Court to take up the case. There’s also a possibility that the plaintiffs or other entities will file a lawsuit in a Florida state court seeking to block Hard Rock Bet from relaunching.
FloridaBet.com will be watching what happens in Washington on Monday to see if Hard Rock Bet will get the green light to go back online. Visit our site regularly for up-to-date information on the case and other top Florida sports betting news. Also, follow us on X (formerly Twitter) at @florida_bet for the latest updates.