The Seminole Tribe of Florida will launch retail sports betting, roulette and craps at its brick-and-mortar casinos early next month, but when mobile wagering will resume in the state is unclear.
Sports betting has been sidelined for two years in Florida amid a legal battle over the $2.5bn gambling compact agreed to in 2021 by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe.
Tribal officials said Wednesday (November 1) they are moving forward with expanding gambling at their casinos over five days in early December after the U.S. Supreme Court decision last week to lift a stay on a lower court ruling upholding the compact gave them the confidence they could proceed.
"This is a historic milestone that immediately puts Florida in the same league with the world's great gaming destinations," Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and chairman of Hard Rock International, said in a statement.
The Seminole Tribe offered no update Wednesday on when it plans to offer online sports betting.
“This news is about in-person sports betting. No additional information is available today,” Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner said in an email.
The tribe issued a press release Wednesday detailing a staggered rollout of its new games first on December 7 at three South Florida locations. It will then debut the games in Tampa and Naples on December 8, followed by its Brighton casino on December 11.
In late 2021, the Seminoles launched mobile wagering briefly before U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled the compact violated federal law by allowing gaming outside tribal lands and vacated the entire compact rather than striking the online sports-betting portions and allowing the rest of the compact to remain in place.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts raised concerns in Indian Country last month when he ordered the U.S. Department of the Interior to respond to a request by West Flagler Associates for a further sports-betting delay in Florida due to the litigation.
The Supreme Court on October 25 denied West Flagler’s motion to extend the delay on online wagers. The request for a stay required votes from at least five of the nine Supreme Court justices and it is not clear that any of the justices supported an extension.
“If Justice Roberts had simply denied it, I don’t think anyone would have given it the time of day because they are rarely granted but he created a lot of temporary angst in Indian Country when he granted the temporary stay,” said Scott Crowell, a prominent tribal gaming attorney and owner of Crowell Law Office Tribal Advocacy Group in Sedona, Arizona.
“Not much should be read into this denial of the application because this happens most of the time,” Crowell said. “If it had been granted, it would have been a signal that the court had been prepared to grant certiorari. So, we still have one more step to go through, but it is a serious one.”
West Flagler has until December 11 to file a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court, seeking a review of the 3-0 decision on June 30 by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. upholding Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s approval of the Florida gambling compact.
“The fact that this got denied increases the likelihood that it won’t be granted but it is still possible,” Crowell said during an hour-long webinar on the Supreme Court’s decision and its implications hosted by the Indian Gaming Association (IGA).
Crowell noted the other part of the order was the statement written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh that the 2021 Florida state law to ratify a tribal gaming compact including off-reservation sports wagers may have violated the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Kavanaugh admitted that order was not the proper vehicle but tracking his concurrent opinion in the Brackeen litigation, he was concerned about equal protection issues as they relate to Native American issues.
The Seminole order was not the right vehicle to raise that issue, according to Crowell.
“It’s clear he has an agenda to continue to find a vehicle to question the validity of Morton v. Mancari, which is the fundamental Supreme Court case that says providing preferences for tribal governments in federal law is not a race-based preference,” said Cowell, who wrote a brief for the IGA supporting the Florida gambling compact.
“It is one that recognizes that tribes are sovereign governments and it’s a government-to-government relationship, on which those laws are based.”
Jason Giles, executive director of the IGA, noted that this was the third or fourth decision now that either Kavanaugh, Justice Samuel Alito, or Justice Clarence Thomas did not grant a petition but added “superfluous language that is basically a dog whistle” to bring this issue back up again in a new form.
Giles called Kavanaugh’s comments a “political statement.”
“You know I’ve been at this a long time; the level of politics is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” Crowell said. “Justices signalling what they might want to do in a future decision really isn’t new.”
Crowell said former Chief Justice William Rehnquist was “famous for it although he did it in the context of footnotes and opinions as opposed to what Kavanaugh is doing with these blatant opinions.”