West Flagler Associates on Monday asked the Florida Supreme Court to prevent the Seminole Tribe of Florida from relaunching sports betting in the state, claiming that neither Gov. Ron DeSantis, who negotiated the 30-year gambling compact in 2021, nor the State Legislature that ratified it had the power to do so.
In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 3 to the constitution giving voters the power to approve any expansion of gambling in the state of nearly 22 million. This home front will be opened mostly on that premise as the ongoing federal fight over the legality of Seminoles’ compact has centered on the contentious “hub-and-spoke” model that would have allowed Hard Rock Bet to take sports wagers on mobile phones and computers off tribal lands.
The state has upwards of 40 days to respond, meaning legal sports betting in Florida won’t be possible until likely November.
“My personal belief is that casino gambling, as used in Amendment 3, should not extend to include sports betting,” Darren Heitner an adjunct professor of Sports Law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. “The definition of casino gambling in that Florida Amendment does not expressly include sports wagering and my position is that the lack of such language was purposeful.
“Let us not forget that the Seminole Tribe of Florida was a strong supporter of the amendment’s passage. It would be quite the coincidence if something it lobbied for now stands in the way of its grand plans.”
The US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit is due to make a final decision on whether it will issue a stay preventing Hard Rock from resuming sports wagering in Florida. West Flagler asked for a suspension there, also, on Sept. 15 claiming it was preparing to petition in the United States Supreme Court. If the Court does not allow for the stay, most observers see no legal impediment to relaunching. Hard Rock last took legal sports bets in Florida in December of 2021.
“The filing at the Florida Supreme Court opens up a two-front attack for West Flagler Associates,” John Holden a gambling law expert and an associate professor at the Oklahoma State Spears School of Business told Gaming Today. “We knew that the company would likely seek to challenge the 2021 Compact in Florida state courts but were not sure when. Now we have our answer. One thing to keep in mind is that both lawsuits are challenging different things, but success in either would likely give West Flagler Associates what it wants.”
In reversing a series of West Flagler court victories on June 30, a three-judge panel from the DC Appeals circuit suggested that the case belonged in Florida court.
The Florida filing rests on four arguments:
- That the Florida Constitution prohibits expansion of casino gambling without citizen approval: The 2021 Compact also granted the Seminole tribe to offer craps and roulette at their six Florida properties but they never rolled out those games.
- The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act governs gaming only “On Indian Lands”: This calls out the state-wide “hub-and-spoke” argument.
- The Tribe’s compacts with Florida were historically confined to gaming on tribal lands
- The 2021 Compact and implementing law grant the tribe a monopoly to conduct off-reservation sports betting throughout the State of Florida without voter approval.
Said West Flagler’s attorneys in the filing:
“The portions of the Implementing Law authorizing the off-reservation sports betting provisions of the 2021 Compact expanded casino gambling throughout Florida, not just on tribal lands. Under the Florida Constitution, the People must approve any new casino gambling in the state through the citizens’ initiative process — the off-reservation sports betting provisions of the 2021 Compact and the off-reservation portions of the Implementing Law violate Article X, Section 30 of the Florida Constitution. Neither the Governor nor the Legislature can expand gambling in Florida in derogation of the People’s constitutional final say.
The Court should issue a writ quo warranto declaring that the Governor and Legislature exceeded their powers in authorizing off-reservation sports betting.”