Florida Sports Betting Moves Closer To Revival After Court Decision

September 12, 2023
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A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. on Monday issued an order that could accelerate the resurrection of sports betting in Florida after a two-year hiatus.
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A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. on Monday (September 11) issued an order that could accelerate the resurrection of sports betting in Florida after a two-year hiatus.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit rejected an August 14 request asking all 11 of the court’s active judges to participate in a hearing on a gambling compact negotiated in 2021 between Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and the Seminole Tribe. 

West Flagler Associates, a pari-mutuel group in South Florida, requested the hearing after losing a 3-0 ruling in the D.C. Court of Appeals on June 30.

The ruling upheld U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s authority to allow the Florida gambling compact to advance without expressly endorsing the agreement.

Among other things, the compact authorizes the Seminole Tribe to conduct mobile sports wagering throughout Florida, as well as add retail sportsbook operations, craps and roulettes to its tribal casino locations in the state.

Not a single judge on the D.C. circuit court voted to conduct an "en banc" hearing,  according to the order released on Monday. 

The order will be followed by a court mandate in seven days closing the case, according to an attorney who requested anonymity.

Following the mandate, the Seminole Tribe will be free to resume mobile sports betting, which began in Florida on November 1, 2021, but abruptly ended on December 4, 2021, after a 2-1 ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found the compact to be impermissible under federal laws governing tribal gaming.

West Flagler also has 90 days to decide whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that would not prevent the Seminoles from resuming sports betting, sources said.

Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the Seminole Tribe, did not say if or when the Seminoles plan to resume online sports-betting operations in Florida via computer servers on the tribe’s land.

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida is pleased with today’s denial of the request for an en banc hearing by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals,” Bitner told Vixio GamblingCompliance in an email.

Hamish Hume, the Washington, D.C. attorney who represents West Flagler, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

“We have nothing to offer,” said Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department.

Another legal option for West Flagler and other anti-sports betting groups could be courts in Florida.

But it is important to remember that Governor DeSantis negotiated the 30-year gambling compact with the Seminoles and signed legislation ratifying the compact into law on May 25, 2021.

Even though DeSantis has struggled in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, he retains immense power in Florida where he has appointed five of the seven justices on the Florida Supreme Court.

Critics of the DeSantis-Seminole gambling compact argue that Amendment 3 in Florida, which voters approved in November 2018, prevents the expansion of gambling without a statewide referendum. 

However, tribal gaming advocates cite a provision in Amendment 3 that exempts gambling expansion via a tribal gaming compact negotiated by the Florida governor.

Eugene Stearns, a Miami attorney who represented No Casinos and Florida business interests in persuading Washington, D.C. federal tribal judge Dabney Friedrich to reject the Florida gambling compact in November 2021, said his clients are not interested in pursuing a case against sports betting in either federal or state courts.

“The panel opinion (on June 30) made it clear that any casino gambling activities outside of tribal lands would be governed by Florida law,” Stearns told Vixio on Monday.

“That means that efforts to expand casino gambling on non-tribal lands in Florida will run into the prohibition put in the Florida Constitution through a citizen initiative (Amendment 3),” Stearns said.

“Does that mean that we would fight sports betting emanating from tribal lands — the hub and spoke? No. Someone else can fight that battle as sports betting is already on every smartphone, whether we like it or not.”

Bob Jarvis, a gaming law professor at Shepard Broad College of Law in Davie, Florida, said he expects West Flagler to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It, too, will be denied, likely by the end of this year,” Jarvis said. 

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