The Florida Supreme Court has unanimously denied a request to require the Seminole Tribe to suspend online sports betting while the court determines the fate of wagering in the state.
West Flagler Associates petitioned the state's Supreme Court to suspend the tribe’s Hard Rock Bet app, which began accepting limited deposits and wagers on November 7 for the first time in two years.
It is not clear when Hard Rock will fully relaunch and open registration to all players in Florida.
“The Seminole Tribe of Florida is pleased with this unanimous decision by the Justices of the Florida Supreme Court,” the tribe said in a statement, released after the state Supreme Court's denial on Friday (November 17).
The relaunch of Hard Rock Bet came after the U.S. Supreme Court similarly denied a motion submitted by West Flagler to extend the pause on the 2021 gaming compact pending further legal challenges.
West Flagler has until December 11 to file a writ of certiorari with the U.S. 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 Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s approval of the landmark 2021 gambling compact.
The company could file its writ with the Supreme Court as early as Monday (November 20).
West Flagler and the Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation, doing business as Bonita Springs Poker Room, claim the compact is improper because it allows players to place sports wagers from anywhere in Florida via servers located on tribal lands.
The companies also argue that the compact violated the 2018 state constitutional amendment that required voter approval for any expansion of gaming in Florida, except through new forms of Indian gaming on tribal lands.
The Seminoles and Republican Governor Ron DeSantis believe the state-tribal compact is legal as the servers for online sports betting are located on tribal land and sports wagering is being conducted as a form of Indian gaming.
Under the 30-year deal, the Seminoles received control over sports betting and were allowed to add craps and roulette to its casinos in Florida. In exchange, the tribe would pay the state at least $2.5bn over the first five years.
In late 2021, the Seminoles launched mobile wagering for 34 days before U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that the compact violated federal law by allowing gaming outside tribal lands.
“This was expected but [West Flager] still has cards to play,” said Robert Jarvis, a professor with Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.
"Ultimately, however, the Seminoles are going to win all these lawsuits," Jarvis told Vixio GamblingCompliance.
Although justices unanimously declined the motion to enjoin the Seminole Tribe from continuing to offer sports betting, the Florida Supreme Court still has to determine the legality of the 2021 gambling compact. DeSantis and attorneys for the state have until December 1 to file a response in the case brought by West Flagler.
John Holden, an associate professor at Oklahoma State University, agreed that Friday’s ruling was another blow to West Flagler, but ultimately this is a “separate universe” from the expected U.S. Supreme Court petition.
Holden was cautious when asked if a Seminole win in Florida would lead to a wide-spread expansion of tribes offering mobile sports betting through servers located on tribal lands.
“Everyone is waiting to find out how both the Florida Supreme Court and SCOTUS rule before attempting to emulate Florida,” he told Vixio.
“Florida is also a bit of a unique scenario because the Seminole Tribe has such an outsized influence in the state; in California or Oklahoma there are a dozen or more tribes implicated by such a decision.”
Holden said even if the Supreme Court takes up the case and there is a ruling on the Seminole Tribe compact, it remains unclear that such a ruling would directly specify that the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) permits what is compacted in Florida.
“The Sunshine State’s set up is a bit unique such that we might not see it immediately impacting tribes in other states,” Holden said.