Florida Sports Betting Court Challenge Receives Dismissal Request from State Attorney General

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Florida attorney general Ashley Moody has asked the state Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to stop the the Seminole Tribe of Florida from offering sports betting in the Sunshine State.

This request comes as the latest twist in the ongoing and complex legal dispute involving the state government, the Seminole Tribe, and pari-mutuel betting operator West Flagler Associates.

The Seminoles recently took the surprise move to relaunch Hard Rock Bet for online sports betting in Florida. That’s after the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed West Flagler’s request for a stay on an earlier District Court ruling in favor of the Seminoles.

The new request from the Florida AG and the Governor’s office was reportedly filed at the last minute before a deadline for comment. The suggestion is Governor Ron De Santis’s presidential ambitions may have taken his full attention away from the matter, delaying proceedings.

The Compact and the Controversy

At the heart of the dispute is a 2021 compact between DeSantis and the Florida Seminoles, granting the tribe exclusive rights to offer gambling in Florida, including sports betting and casino games.

The plaintiff, West Flagler and Associates, argues that this agreement exceeds the state government’s powers and violates the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

West Flagler contends that the compact effectively grants a monopoly to the Seminoles for online sports betting across the state. The company believes that any expansion of gaming should be subject to voter approval under Amendment 3 of the state constitution, enacted in 2018​​​​.

Its previous attempts to stop the Seminoles from launching sports betting included a successful shutdown of the previous Hard Rock Sportsbook brand in late 2021. However, since then, decisions have mostly not gone West Flagler’s way, leading to November, when the Seminoles confidently announced they were launching Florida retail sportsbooks at their casinos in the state.

The State’s Defense and Legal Maneuvers

In response to the Florida Supreme Court suit, Moody’s office contends that digital sports betting does not fall under the Florida constitution’s definition of casino gambling.

The attorney general’s filing, submitted just before the deadline, lists several reasons for dismissal, including the delay by the pari-mutuels in filing the petition (more than two years after the compact was approved), the non-involvement of the Seminoles in the lawsuit, and the inappropriateness of the “quo warranto” filing used by West Flagler.

The state argues that sports betting does not share characteristics typical of casino games, and therefore does not violate Amendment 3​​​​.

West Flagler’s Persistence in the Face of Failures

Despite West Flagler facing setbacks in the federal courts, where a district court initially ruled in favor of the operator, only for an appeal court to overturn that ruling, the company is persistent in its legal fight.

It was recently granted an extension to its deadline for filing its appeal in the Supreme Court against the District Court ruling that affirmed the compact. That deadline is February 8, 2024.

Given that the Supreme Court denied a stay on the ruling West Flagler is appealing against –effectively giving the green light for the Seminoles to launch retail betting — it’s hard to see the appeal going their way. But for now at least, the operator is locked in to continuing legal proceedings.

In the Florida courts, the Florida Supreme Court would have to deny the state’s own governor’s petition to dismiss the case, and then rule in favor of West Flagler if the operator is to succeed.

Hard Rock Bet Up and Running

In the meantime, Hard Rock Bet is busily accepting bets in its effective monopoly market – including several huge bets of several hundred thousand dollars and up.

It also took the court’s decisions on the gaming compact as full ratification of its rights to offer roulette and craps at its Florida casinos.

The new casino games will launch alongside retail sports betting in all six casinos by the end of this week. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood is set to host a star-studded bash to celebrate the final day of the rollout, with guests including Mike Tyson, Jon Bon Jovi, DJ Khaled, and Sofia Vergara.

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida is proud to point to a new era in Florida gaming with the unveiling of our new casino games,” said Marcellus Osceola Jr., Seminole Tribe chairman.

“With the addition of craps, roulette, and sports betting, we now offer a full complement of casino games, and we join the ranks of leading casinos around the world.”

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