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Supreme Court Denies Stay, Greenlights Florida Sports Betting Relaunch

Written By Matthew Kredell on October 25, 2023 - Last Updated on October 27, 2023
Supreme Court Denies Florida Sports Betting Stay

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to stop the Seminole Tribe from offering Florida sports betting pending a petition challenging the tribe’s compact with the court.

West Flagler asked Chief Justice John Roberts to recall and stay the DC Circuit US Court of Appeals ruling that reaffirmed the Seminole Compact with the state of Florida. The compact provides the tribe with control of statewide online sports betting run through servers on Indian lands.

Roberts offered a temporary stay until the Supreme Court ruled on the stay request. The full court made its decision Wednesday, denying the application for a stay.

Comments made on the denial cast doubt on the likelihood of the Supreme Court taking the case, which could make the tribe feel comfortable relaunching Florida sports betting.

Seminoles spokesperson Gary Bitner issued the following comment:

“The denial of the stay by the U.S. Supreme Court is very good news. The Seminole Tribe of Florida is heartened by this decision.”

Justice’s comments damning for cert chances

Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a statement regarding the denial of a stay.

Kavanaugh’s comments suggest that the Supreme Court wouldn’t find the DC Circuit ruling worthy of its review.

Kavanaugh backed the DC Circuit ruling:

“I agree that the stay application should be denied in light of the D. C. Circuit’s pronouncement that the compact between Florida and the Seminole Tribe authorizes the Tribe to conduct only on-reservation gaming operations, and not off-reservation gaming operations.”

West Flagler sued US Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, saying she erred in allowing a gaming compact including online sports betting under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. IGRA may only authorize gaming conducted on Indian lands.

A US District Court judge agreed with West Flagler, invalidating the compact. However, the DC Circuit overruled the lower court, stating that the compact included but did not authorize online betting to take place outside Indian lands. Statewide online sports betting was mentioned in the compact but approved by state statute.

Kavanaugh agreed:

“If the compact authorized the Tribe to conduct off-reservation gaming operations, either directly or by deeming off-reservation gaming operations to somehow be on-reservation, then the compact would likely violate the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, as the District Court explained.”

Kavanaugh offers nugget for state case

Although Kavanaugh’s comments back the DC Circuit ruling on this specific case, they aren’t all good for the Seminoles. They have the potential to lead to other legal challenges.

The comments could bolster West Flagler’s arguments in a filing with the Florida Supreme Court.

West Flagler capitalized just days later, submitting the comments to the state court and highlighting the above quote.

West Flagler told the Florida Supreme Court:

“Justice Kavanaugh’s statement about ‘off-reservation gaming operations to somehow be on-reservation’ is pertinent to this Court’s determination of whether Respondents exceeded their authority in granting the Seminole Tribe of Florida the exclusive right to offer off-reservation online and in-person sports betting throughout the state of Florida.”

Kavanaugh’s statement also said:

“To the extent that a separate Florida statute (as distinct from the compact) authorizes the Seminole Tribe—and only the Seminole Tribe—to conduct certain off-reservation gaming operations in Florida, the state law raises serious equal protection issues.

“But the state law’s constitutionality is not squarely presented in this application, and the Florida Supreme Court is in any event currently considering state-law issues related to the Tribe’s potential off-reservation gaming operations.”

That statement could also encourage West Flagler to file another federal case challenging the state law’s constitutionality based on equal protection issues.

What denial means for Florida sports betting relaunch

If the Supreme Court had granted the petition for stay, it would have been impossible for the Seminoles to relaunch Florida sports betting until the Supreme Court determined whether to take the case.

Now, the Seminole compact with its online sports betting component is firmly in place.

The only thing stopping the Seminoles from relaunching sports betting is caution over legal challenges. But the Supreme Court’s denial of the petition for a stay clears the biggest legal hurdle, signaling that it isn’t likely to take the case.

West Flagler’s petition for writ of certiorari is due Dec. 11. However, in its filing for stay, West Flagler pledged to file its petition by Nov. 20. The Supreme Court likely would determine whether to take the case in the second quarter of 2024.

Florida-based gaming and sports attorney Daniel Wallach previously told PlayUSA that denial of the stay could be what the Seminoles are waiting for to relaunch Florida sports betting.

“If the Supreme Court denies the emergency application, I think that would be the trigger for the relaunch of online sports betting regardless of what’s pending in the state supreme court.”

Photo by PlayUSA
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 after federal passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act disrupted his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker. He has since interviewed more than 300 lawmakers around the country and written extensively about online gambling legislation. He has led coverage of bills to legalize online gambling in most states. A lifelong Angeleno and USC journalism alum, Matthew started his career working as a sportswriter for a decade at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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