FL Governor Asks Supreme Court To Throw Out Seminole Compact Challenge

Written By Derek Helling on December 4, 2023
ron desantis talking

The expected response from Florida’s highest executive officer to West Flagler Associates’ lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida has landed. Amid Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ campaigning for another job, however, the filing was almost too late.

It’s unclear exactly how soon the Florida Supreme Court will respond to the governor’s request to dismiss the challenge. Even if the justices in Tallahassee do so and quickly, that won’t be the final word on the matter.

Governor squeaks in request to dismiss

According to Shira Moolten of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the governor’s office had just 60 seconds to spare. Moolten reports that the governor filed his request to dismiss just a minute before the midnight deadline on Friday, Dec. 1.

Regardless, the request now stands. In its petition, the governor’s office argues that the plaintiff in the dispute, West Flagler Associates, waited too long to file its challenge to the constitutionality of the gaming compact between Florida, the Seminole Tribe, and the US Dept. of the Interior. The lawsuit comes more than two years after Interior approved the compact.

The governor’s response also argues that sports betting does not fit the Florida constitution‘s definition of “casino gambling.” That argument strikes at the very heart of West Flagler’s lawsuit.

The Florida Supreme Court has already issued one decision favorable to the interests of legal sports betting under the auspices of the Seminole Tribe in the state. If Florida’s governor gets his way, it could do that more permanently.

One defeat after another for West Flagler

In November, the Florida Supreme Court denied West Flagler’s request to interrupt online sports wagering via the Hard Rock Bet app in the state. West Flagler operates multiple off-track betting parlors in the state.

Under the terms of the existing gaming compact between Florida, the Seminole Tribe, and the US Dept. of the Interior, such facilities can offer in-person sports betting. However, they can only do so legally in partnership with the Seminole Tribe.

In its challenge to that compact, West Flagler argues that the agreement violates Florida’s constitution because the constitution reserves the power to expand legal gambling in the state for voters. No vote on the issue of sports betting legalization has yet taken place in Florida.

While West Flagler did wait more than two years to challenge the compact on the state level, there was no delay to its challenges to the compact’s language in federal courts. West Flagler has a pending appeal before the Supreme Court of the United States.

In that action, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland did not err when she approved the gaming compact. West Flagler wants the US Supreme Court to overturn that ruling. West Flagler has been granted an extension until February to file.

However, the US Supreme Court has not yet announced whether it will take up West Flagler’s appeal. That decision could come after the Florida Supreme Court weighs in on the governor’s request to dismiss.

Timelines may not be in sync

While working days in 2023 are waning, there might be enough left for the Florida Supreme Court to respond to the governor’s request. That doesn’t mean the US Supreme Court will render its decision yet this year, however.

There are myriad possibilities due to the existence of both federal and state challenges by West Flagler. In fact, West Flagler successfully applied for an extension to file its petition to the US Supreme Court until early February.

A majority of the potential scenarios end in the compact surviving those challenges at this point. There are only two sets of circumstances in which Hard Rock Bet has to again cease online operations in Florida.

On the state level, the Florida Supreme Court would have to deny the governor’s request to dismiss then find for the plaintiff in trial. In Washington, DC, the US Supreme Court would have to take up the appeal and find fault with the appellate court’s decision. Any other possible scenario right now leads to defeat for West Flagler.

The action in Tallahassee and Washington, DC may not sync up in terms of timing, either. While Hard Rock Bet is currently accepting online bets in Florida on a limited basis, those limitations could remain for months. The most immediate matter in Tallahassee is the governor’s petition.

Photo by Meg Kinnard / AP Photo
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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