West Flagler’s Florida Sports Betting Battle Heading to Supreme Court

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West Flagler, a Florida-based card room operator, has escalated its long-running legal battle against the Seminole Tribe and its aim to open its Hard Rock Bet online sportsbook in Florida.

Last month it unsuccessfully requested a stay on a previous district court ruling that certified the Seminole’s gaming compact with the state of Florida. It has now filed an application with the U.S. Supreme Court to stay that mandate, which allows a potential relaunch of Florida online sports betting.

The D.C Circuit had, in July, overturned a District Court ruling that invalidated the Seminole compact with the state of Florida for including statewide online sports betting. The D.C Circuit court’s  decision affirmed the compact, determining that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) can include mobile sports betting off Indian lands if the state agrees.

West Flagler has requested the Supreme Court to prevent this from happening while it prepares its full appeal. The company has committed to submitting its petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court within 45 days, which means it would file by November 20, 2023, ahead of the December 11 deadline.

Awaiting the Supreme Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court typically decides filings on the emergency docket within 7 to 22 days, handling them on an expedited basis with limited briefing and no oral argument. The court often resolves them in unsigned orders with little or no explanation. West Flagler directed the application at Chief Justice John Roberts, who is likely to enter an immediate referral order, giving the full court the opportunity to decide the application.

West Flagler’s legal team argues that there is good cause for the stay as a matter of public policy. They state that unless the mandate is stayed, the Circuit Opinion will upset the status quo in Florida by permitting the Tribe to conduct online sports gaming throughout the state.

The compact would give rise to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of sports betting transactions that they say may violate state and federal law. All before the Supreme Court has the opportunity to address the situation.

The Seminole’s have previously shown a willingness to launch at the first opportunity in their home state, having started their previous Hard Rock Sportsbook brand in November 2022, only to see it close down just weeks later.

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Preserving Status Quo in Public Interest

If the Supreme Court denies the emergency application, the Seminoles could potentially relaunch online sports betting in Florida by Halloween. This time, it will be under its newly revamped Hard Rock Bet brand.

However, there are potential downsides for West Flagler in filing the emergency application with the Supreme Court to stay the mandate. If the application is denied, it could indicate that the court takes a dim view of the merits, potentially signaling that the appeal may not go West Flagler’s way, or even be denied completely.

Conversely, if the Supreme Court grants the application for a stay, it could improve the chances that the court will hear the case favorably.

“The Circuit Opinion enables a dramatic change in public policy on legalizing gaming that, once started, may be difficult to stop,” West Flagler’s attorneys wrote.

“It is in the public interest to preserve the status quo with respect to online gaming until such time as this Court as a chance to review Applicants’ petition for a writ of certiorari.”

Options and Consequences

While the legal battle at the federal level continues, West Flagler is also litigating at the state level, filing a constitutional challenge with the Florida Supreme Court against Governor Ron DeSantis (R) and the Florida legislature for allowing the expansion of gambling in Florida, including sports betting.

The argument posits that the only way to expand gambling in Florida is by a constitutional amendment, which is beyond DeSantis’ authority to certify without a public vote.

The outcomes of this case will likely have far-reaching consequences across the U.S. if a legal precedent is set in favor of tribal gaming operators offering online betting. Currently there are no Florida retail sportsbook venues either. But if online sports betting does go the way of the Seminoles, that could easily become a topic for discussion in the future.

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