U.S. Supreme Court Asked to Review Florida Sports Betting Law

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Florida legalized sports betting back in 2021, but the actual availability of placing wagers has been back and forth since that decision.

The issue is the exclusive rights given to the Seminole Tribe. They control all sports betting that is done electronically in the state. Two pari-mutuel companies, West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., have challenged that compact, and now they are requesting that the U.S. Supreme Court be the next legal body to examine the case.

A lower court ruled that the compact was in violation of the law and declared the deal null and void. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sided with the state and Tribe, and the full appellate court left the compact in place.

The companies contend that the agreement with the Seminoles violates a state constitutional amendment that requires voter approval for all expansion of gambling. They also say that when U.S Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland allowed the deal, she violated federal law. The petition says that her power only extends to gaming issues on Tribal land, and since this involves mobile sports betting, it clearly extends beyond Tribal land. 

“The 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 Appeal’s affirmative answer is left undisturbed – as an end-run not just around state-law prohibitions on gaming off Tribal lands, but also around Congress’ limitations of IGRA’s federal imprimatur to gambling on Tribal lands,” explained Hamish Hume, an attorney representing the pari-mutuel companies.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) is a 1988 federal law that established the jurisdictional and regulatory framework for the operation of Indian gaming as a means of creating revenue for the Tribes.

Tribal Casinos and Sports Betting Still Moving Forward

Even as the case moves up the legal chain, Floridians now have access to mobile sports betting. In November, the Seminoles launched a sports betting app, and in December, they added craps and roulette to their six casinos in the state.

As part of the agreement that the Seminoles reached with the state, they will pay nearly $20 billion, with a promise of $2.5 billion paid out in the first five years. In January, the Seminoles made their first payment of $58 million.

The Seminole compact was originally negotiated with the tribe by Governor Ron DeSantis in 2021, and the Florida Legislature approved it. Since then, the state has taken up the legal fight on behalf of the Tribe, and in December, they filed a brief with the state Supreme Court arguing that sports betting “is not casino gambling as that term is defined in the Florida Constitution.”

The state also claims that all mobile betting transactions take place on Seminole land, because that is where the internet servers are located.

In Florida, pari-mutuel betting includes saddle and harness racing, cardroom poker, and jai alai games, and the companies argue that the compact between the state and the Tribe threatens their livelihoods. 

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