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Filing Suggests FL Sports Betting Lawsuit Plaintiff Will Bide Time On State Case

Written By Derek Helling on April 1, 2024
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In gambling as well as in many facets of life, there are times when you can’t avoid showing your hand. A new legal brief from the plaintiffs in a challenge to the gaming compact between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida all but lays out their legal strategy in black and white.

As the plaintiffs hope that their supplemental brief will sway judges’ minds to take up their case, judges in another part of the United States probably won’t have to do so for a while. There’s no guarantee that either effort will give plaintiffs their desired result, however.

West Flagler Associates and partners file a supplemental brief

On March 29, there was a new filing from the plaintiffs in West Flagler Associated, et al vs. Debra Haaland, et al. That action is currently on appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found in favor of the defendant in June 2023, overturning the decision of the trial court.

The complaint stems from a 2021 amendment to the gaming compact between Florida and the Seminole Tribe. The amendment allows the Seminole Tribe to offer certain table games and accept sports bets from patrons at its casinos within the state’s borders.

Furthermore, the compact essentially gives the Seminole Tribe and its Hard Rock Bet app control over online sports betting in the state. West Flagler Associates and its partners in the action operate off-track betting sites in Florida.

In their complaint, they argue that the compact violates the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988. They allege that IGRA limits gaming governed by tribal compacts to only take place on lands owned by the parties to those compacts. In this case, that would be territory that the Seminole Tribe controls.

At issue is whether the servers hosting the online sportsbook sitting on Seminole lands satisfy that requirement even though people using the online sportsbook may not physically be on Seminole land when placing their bets in the app. To date, the federal courts have not truly ruled on that question itself.

Rather, the DC Circuit Court simply deemed that Haaland, the US Secretary of the Interior, did not err when the Dept. of the Interior approved the compact amendment as the plaintiffs argued. The same issues are potentially before the US Supreme Court, should it agree to take up the appeal.

While the betting odds favor the US Supreme Court denying West Flagler’s petition for appeal, the plaintiffs have tried to strengthen their case toward that end. In doing so, they refer to a separate action and therein signal their intent closer to home.

Supplemental brief cites Florida Supreme Court decision

In their new filing, West Flagler and its partners point the US Supreme Court justices’ attention to a recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court. West Flagler had filed a petition in Tallahassee also challenging the gaming compact amendment in another way.

In that complaint, the plaintiffs asked the Florida Supreme Court to circumvent the usual process and immediately demand that the Seminole Tribe defend its offering of online sports betting across the state to the court. However, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that West Flagler and its partners must take the normal course and file their complaint in a lower court in the state first.

That ruling is the focus of the plaintiffs’ supplemental brief to the US Supreme Court. They point to a passage of the Florida Supreme Court’s rejection of their petition, which says that “among other forms of gaming, the compact authorizes mobile sports betting…”

At the same time, the DC Circuit Court held that the compact amendment “should be ‘interpreted’ as not authorizing any off-reservation gambling.” The supplemental brief continues to state “that conflict reflects the untenable nature of the D.C. Circuit’s interpretation…”

This goes hand-in-hand with West Flagler’s argument that the DC Circuit Court was wrong to overturn the trial court’s decision. Additionally, it shows a divergence of opinion from lower courts, something that is usually crucial to the US Supreme Court granting an appeal request.

Regardless, the US Supreme Court might still deny that request. What is more certain is that clerks for state courts in Florida may not have any work to do on this issue for a while.

West Flagler seems content to wait on the justices’ pleasure

Continuing in the supplemental brief, the plaintiff writes that “because there are currently no pending proceedings in Florida state courts regarding the legality of the Compact, there is no risk that the Petition will be mooted by proceedings in Florida state courts.” That sentence is extremely telling when it comes to West Flagler’s next move.

In essence, the plaintiffs have committed to not file a challenge to the gaming compact in Florida until they find out whether the US Supreme Court is going to hear their appeal. They rightfully recognize that having a pending action in Florida on a similar issue could prompt the US Supreme Court to pass.

For people in Florida using the Hard Rock Bet app, that strongly suggests access to that gambling will not see an interruption at least until the US Supreme Court announces a decision on West Flagler’s appeal. At that juncture, myriad possibilities will exist.

People following this case should expect that announcement sometime between now and June. West Flagler will likely have a complaint ready to file in a state court should the US Supreme Court deny the appeal. While the plaintiffs’ attention may be divided in the future, all of their eyes are currently on Washington, DC.

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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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