West Flagler Associates Left With Supreme Court Appeal As Only Lifeline For Florida Sports Betting Challenge

Written By Derek Helling on September 11, 2023
front entrance to the united states supreme court building

The controversy over the legality of a gaming compact allowing for legal online sports betting in Florida could be headed to the US Supreme Court. Perhaps more important for Floridians, however, is the possibility wagering could restart soon.

In about a week’s time, Floridians should know whether the Seminole Tribe plans to resume taking bets via its online Hard Rock Bets platform in their state or not. That might not be the last word on the matter, though.

Appeals court denies en banc hearing to Florida sports betting lawsuit plaintiff

The plaintiff in the action that has held up legal Florida sports betting has just one option left: the nine justices of the US Supreme Court. On Monday, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals denied a petition for an en banc review of a three-judge panel’s decision against West Flagler Associates.

An en banc review would have put the panel’s decision in favor of the US Department of the Interior (DOI) in front of the entire 11-judge court. Grants of such reviews are rare and that held true on this matter. As standard procedure, the court will issue a mandate in seven days’ time and at that point, the DC Circuit will consider the matter closed.

That is, unless West Flagler takes one final action remaining in its playbook or the Supreme Court remands the case back.

Few plays left for West Flagler

The only business that West Flagler could have with the DC Circuit now is to ask for an effective stay of the mandate while it petitions the Supreme Court for a review. It’s unclear whether the DC Circuit would acquiesce. The impact of that is more clear, however, if it does occur.

The delay of the mandate could also delay the relaunch of Hard Rock Bets in Florida. The Seminole Tribe might still take a cautious approach with legal matters unresolved. However, at this point, there’s no technical legal obstacle to block Hard Rock Bets in Florida.

It’s simply a matter of how comfortable the Seminole Tribe feels with taking the risk of having to possibly shut it down a second time. At this time, there is no official comment from the Seminole Tribe on the matter.

The federal challenge to the compact between Florida and them may soon be over. That doesn’t necessarily mean the matter is completely settled, though.

Another option for West Flagler

There is no guarantee that the Supreme Court will take up West Flagler’s appeal, should West Flagler ask for it. There are facets of the case that seem to suggest there could be some interest on the justice’s part.

For example, the interpretation of the Indian Gaming Rights Act when it comes to online gambling governed by a compact is something that a Supreme Court decision would go a long way toward clarifying. A pertinent legal question is whether online gambling via servers on tribal lands is considered as taking place on those lands even if the people placing the wagers are elsewhere.

At the same time, the Supreme Court has historically been more likely to take up appeals when there are appellate court splits on a matter. The central issue of West Flagler’s case, that the DOI erred when it approved the compact between Florida and the Seminole Tribe, doesn’t boast such a storyline.

Should the Supreme Court deny cert, West Flagler could opt to change its playbook. It might challenge the legitimacy of the compact in Florida’s state court system. To date, the federal courts that have weighed in on this matter have been silent on whether the agreement complies with Florida’s constitution.

Such a challenge would again put the Seminole Tribe in a position to try to prognosticate the future. The bottom line right now is that Floridians could again have access to legal online sports betting in as little as seven days.

Then again, it could be months if not years before that is the case again. Monday’s decision was positive in that regard but not yet the final word on the matter.

Photo by AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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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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