The U.S. Department of the Interior urged the nation’s top court Wednesday to turn down a request by two Florida companies to stop a lower court’s ruling that would open the door to resuming online Florida sports betting.
The department and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland filed a 30-page response to the request for a stay West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp seek from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chief Justice John Roberts issued a temporary stay last week and gave the federal government until Wednesday afternoon to respond.
In the document, the department defended allowing the Class III compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis to stand. That agreement, also approved by Florida lawmakers, gives the tribe the right to offer roulette and diced-based table games and build up to three new casinos on tribal lands. However, the compact’s sports betting provisions have generated the most attention and legal scrutiny.
Besides allowing retail sportsbooks at tribal casinos, it also gives the Seminoles exclusive rights to offer online sports betting across the state. The state and tribe argue that since the Hard Rock Bet Florida app servers will be located on tribal lands, all wagers will take place there – regardless of whether they were placed in Key West, Pensacola or anywhere in between.
Interior Department: Appeals Court Got The Decision Right
West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers filed suit against the Interior Department in August 2021 after the federal government deemed the compact approved to the extent it complied with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. That November, a federal district judge sided with the plaintiffs and threw out the compact. As a result, that ruling forced the Seminole Tribe to suspend its Hard Rock Florida online sports betting app a month after it launched.
The department appealed, and in June of this year, a federal appeals court sided with the department. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued its mandate earlier this month, a move that would require U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich to vacate her ruling from two years ago and rule for the government. West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers have asked the Supreme Court to halt that mandate as they proceed with an appeal request before the justices.
In Wednesday’s response, the Interior Department argued that the appellate judges were correct in ruling gaming compacts may include other topics, such as gaming occurring off tribal lands.
As the plaintiffs seek the U.S. Supreme Court’s intervention, they’ve also filed suit in the Florida Supreme Court against DeSantis and state lawmakers, arguing the compact and enacting sports betting law violate the state’s constitution. However, the federal government noted that the plaintiffs have not sought similar action at the state court level, such as an injunction.
“If the Florida Supreme Court concludes that the Florida Legislature’s authorization of the placement of wagers outside Indian lands is not permissible under the Florida Constitution, that would afford applicants the relief they seek,” U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote. “That pending case provides the appropriate forum to resolve applicants’ claims based on the meaning of state law. In these circumstances, equity counsels strongly against a stay from this Court.”
What’s Next In The Florida Sports Betting Cases
With the Interior Department’s filing, we now wait on the U.S. Supreme Court to decide two things. First, whether to extend the temporary stay, and second, to determine whether it will take up the case. For the latter to happen, four of the nine justices must agree.
Meanwhile, the next step in the Florida state case is a response from DeSantis and state lawmakers. That’s currently due on Nov. 1, but they may request a deadline after the state Supreme Court granted No Casinos a 10-day extension to file its amicus brief in the case. That brief was filed late Monday.
So, at this point, we’re in a wait-and-see mode, although a decision on the stay at the U.S. Supreme Court would likely be the next issue resolved. However, a decision on the stay would not necessarily indicate if the justices would agree to take the case or how they would rule if they did.
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