In a filing Thursday to the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers for Florida gaming operators challenging the U.S. government’s approval of the state’s compact with the Seminole Tribe asked the nation’s top court to take up the case. To not do so, they claim, would create a “nationwide precedent” allowing tribal gaming nations to conduct sports betting and other offerings statewide even if laws prevent it.
The 52-page petition for writ of certiorari filed on behalf of West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation is a petition before the court asking it to review a federal appeals court decision that allowed the 2021 compact reached between tribal leaders and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to stand. That decision, which was reached last year, overturned a lower court’s ruling from November 2021 that struck down the agreement.
That compact gave the tribe, among other things, rights to conduct online sports betting exclusively across the state through its Hard Rock Bet Florida platform. Florida voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment that said any proposal to offer casino gaming off tribal lands required their consent.
If the Supreme Court does not agree to hear the case, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling for the District of Columbia will be upheld. While that would almost certainly end the petitioners’ chances at the federal court level, they are also asking the Florida Supreme Court to rule on the matter in a separate lawsuit.
Compact Considered 'A Backdoor'
Compact proponents argue online Florida sports betting is legal because the servers processing the wagers are located on Seminole land. Lawyers for West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers claim the state and tribe are using the U.S. Department of the Interior’s approval of the agreement “as a backdoor,” giving the tribe a monopoly and making it a crime for others.
Federal approval of tribal gaming compacts is required through the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
“This question is exceptionally important not just for the people of Florida but for the nationwide precedent it will set for other state-tribal compacts if the Court of Appeals’ affirmative answer is left undisturbed—as an end-run not just around state-law prohibitions on gaming off tribal lands, but also around Congress’ limitation of IGRA’s federal imprimatur to gambling on tribal lands,” wrote Hamish Hume, Samuel Kaplan and Amy Neuhardt of Boies Schiller Flexner.
The lawyers argue that, besides violating the Florida constitution and IGRA, the compact also goes against the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. The federal law passed 18 years ago prohibits operators from accepting credit cards or other electronic deposits for wagering online illegally.
Florida is one of 38 states that allow sports betting, with most doing so in the past six years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to rule the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act unconstitutional.
“As different jurisdictions make different decisions regarding the legality of sports betting, it is critical that this Court not allow the unlawful approach taken by Florida to become a model,” the lawyers wrote.
Initially, West Flager and Bonita-Fort Myers had until Dec. 10 to submit their petition. However, they received approval from the court for a two-month extension in hopes the Florida Supreme Court would make a ruling in its case. That has not happened as of Thursday afternoon.
As the federal lawsuit is against the Interior Department and Interior Secretary Debra Haaland, they will be the ones to respond to Thursday’s filing. Interested parties outside of the case may also file briefs supporting one side.
It’s uncertain whether or when the Supreme Court would consider approving the request. According to USCourts.gov, the Supreme Court receives more than 7,000 petitions yearly, but the justices typically agree to hear up to 150 requests.
Last November, the Seminole Tribe relaunched the Hard Rock Bet app across Florida. It has since opened brick-and-mortar sportsbooks at its casinos on tribal land in the Sunshine State. The casinos have also expanded to offer roulette and dice-based table games, other provisions that were included in the compact.
Florida officials also gave the tribe the right to create “hub-and-spoke” networks with parimutuel gaming operators. Tribal leaders have identified partners for those networks. Those parimutuel operators will be allowed to offer sports betting kiosks at their locations, and the Seminoles would receive 40% of the revenues those machines generate.
Stay with FloridaBet.com for more sports betting news like this and our expert reviews of the best Florida sportsbook apps that could come to the Sunshine State once all betting is legal.