Even though they are running out of options after yet another defeat last week in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., opponents of mobile sports betting in Florida continue to pursue Hail Mary efforts in the U.S. Supreme Court and its state-level equivalent.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., after almost two years of hearings and rulings on a 2021 Florida gaming compact authorizing the Seminole Tribe to accept wagers online, finally washed its hands of the case on September 28.
The appeals court denied a request for a delay on the resumption of sports-betting operations under the compact in Florida by a pari-mutuel group including West Flagler Associates of Miami and Bonita Corporation of Fort Myers.
But in somewhat of a surprise, the very next day, the Florida Supreme Court asked Governor Ron DeSantis to submit a response to a separate, state-level West Flagler-Bonita lawsuit by November 1.
West Flagler and Bonita were given until November 21 to comment on whatever response the governor may submit.
Before the Florida Supreme Court’s request for input from the governor, there was speculation the court might refer the lawsuit to a state circuit court in Leon County where the state capital of Tallahassee is located.
After all, the Florida Supreme Court’s jurisdiction was curtailed in 1980 so that it may only review a limited number of cases that fall into discrete categories.
Another reason the Florida Supreme Court’s request for a response from DeSantis is surprising is the governor, who negotiated the 30-year gambling compact with the Seminoles in 2021, has appointed five of the court’s seven justices, including Chief Justice Carlos Muniz.
It also bears mentioning that West Flagler owned the Magic City Casino in Miami before selling it for $96m in February to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama, a state that borders Florida’s northern panhandle.
For almost ten years, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has been trying to enter the Florida market.
“It leads one to wonder,” said Bob Jarvis, a gaming law professor at Shepard Broad College of Law in Davie, Florida, “is West Flagler actually paying these legal fees or are the Poarchs? And if so, what are the Poarchs hoping to gain and why would they want to alienate the Seminoles who own Florida gambling?”
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians did not respond to a request for comment on Friday (September 29).
John Holden, an associate professor in the Department of Management at Oklahoma State University, said the Seminoles would be well advised to hold off on sports betting until the Florida Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court both resolve the appeals by West Flagler Associates and Bonita Corporation.
“Assuming things turn out as most of us expect, the [Seminole] Tribe will have a monopoly,” Holden said.
“I think we probably see the switch flipped back on (for sports betting in Florida) before the end of the year.”