Federal Government Files SCOTUS Response In Sports Betting Case

Written By Steve Schult on May 15, 2024
A picture of the Supreme Court in April 2024

In the latest development regarding the 2021 Florida gaming compact, the U.S. Department of the Interior filed a response with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Legal representatives filed a 31-page brief in response to West Flagler’s writ of certiorari. A writ of certiorari is a legal term meaning to ask a higher court to review the lower court’s decision.

In this instance, the Florida pari-mutuel ownership group wants the Supreme Court to overturn a DC Court of Appeals ruling.

Last summer, the appellate court overturned a district court ruling temporarily stopping Florida sports betting.

In November 2021, Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Thus, the Seminole Tribe was forced to cease its online sports betting operation.

However, the tribe relaunched its operations late last year after the appellate court’s ruling. West Flagler is appealing the nation’s highest court in hopes of ending the tribe’s online sports betting monopoly.

DOI Argues DC Court of Appeals Made Correct Decision

Predictably, counsel for the federal government argued last summer’s decision was correct.

They also argued in the brief that the Supreme Court shouldn’t grant West Flagler’s appeal request.

“The court of appeals correctly upheld the Compact’s approval by operation of law, and its decision does not conflict with any decision of this Court or another court of appeals. This Court previously denied petitioners’ application for a stay of the court of appeals’ mandate raising the same contentions. The Court should similarly deny certiorari.”

In February, Nova Southeastern University law professor Bob Jarvis told PlayFL that he doesn’t believe the court will hear the case.

Case Centered Around Whether Betting Occurs on Indian Land

When West Flagler filed its initial lawsuit shortly after the compact’s approval in 2021, it argued that DOI Secretary Deb Haaland wrongfully approved the deal. It said the federal government couldn’t approve a tribal gaming compact that permitted betting off Indian land.

In response, the government and the tribe argued that the betting occurred on tribal land. Although the sports bettor may be located anywhere in the country, the servers conducting the transaction were on tribal land.

As a result, the government defended Haaland’s decision not to deny the compact.

In denying West Flagler’s application for a stay, Justice Brett Kavanaugh agreed that the compact did not authorize betting on tribal property.

But the DOI took their argument one step further and cited the Supreme Court decision in Michigan v. Bay Mills. In the 2014 decision, the court ruled by a 5-4 margin that a federal court does not have jurisdiction over activity that violates IGRA.

In 2010, the Bay Mills Tribe purchased land in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan and claimed authority to operate a casino on it.

The state sued over the move, claiming the tribe did not have the right to run a casino on that land. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices ruled that the tribe was protected by sovereign immunity.

Lastly, the government said there was no reason the compact couldn’t also allow for non-Indian land gambling.

“For instance, if a proposed brick-and-mortar casino would be situated on both Indian and non-Indian lands, a Tribal-State compact could authorize the portion of casino gaming activities occurring on Indian lands, even though the casino would also require the State’s independent authorization of the casino’s related gaming activities on non-Indian lands.”

Court Wouldn’t Make A Ruling Until 2025

Regardless of the outcome, it will be a while before a decision is made. First, the court needs to decide whether to hear the case.

Then, if they hear the case, the earliest they could start hearing arguments is in the fall. Thus, the court won’t rule until at least a year from now.

Whatever the outcome, the court’s decision will end the multi-year legal battle surrounding the Florida sports betting industry.

Photo by AP Photo / Mariam Zuhaib
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Steve Schult

As Managing Editor of PlayFL, Steve will stay on top of all things related to the Florida gaming industry. He is also a veteran of the gambling world. The native New Yorker started covering high-stakes tournaments in 2009 for some of poker's most prominent media outlets before adding the broader U.S. gaming market to his beat in 2018.

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