Feds Oppose Stay Request In Ongoing Florida Sports Betting Lawsuit

Written By Jason Jarrett on September 26, 2023
Photo of legal scale, Florida logo for story on sports betting lawsuit.

Let the games begin.

That’s the opinion of the US Department of Interior as federal officials oppose a stay request in the latest legal move in Florida’s ongoing case pertaining to legalized sports gambling in the state.

On Monday, the DOI filed a response to plaintiff West Flagler Associates’ request to the DC Court of Appeals to keep sports betting in Florida on hold until the US Supreme Court possibly takes up WFA’s lawsuit to toss out the 2021 compact with the Seminole Tribe that would allow wagering to restart in the state. For a couple months in 2021, the tribe’s mobile app, Hard Rock Bet FL, was taking wagers before being shut down by a court decision.

Monday’s response to the stay that mandate started a seven-day clock for a response from West Flagler Associates. However, the Court of Appeals can make a ruling at any time, according to court rules.

Details of Department of Interior response

In the court filing from the DOI, federal officials make the argument that the stay isn’t “warranted” because the case doesn’t deserve the US Supreme Court’s review.

“This Court reached a narrow, case-specific holding about the meaning of particular in one particular Compact under the Indian Gaming Regulator Act (IGRA),” the filing states. “Its decision makes explicitly clear that the Compact does not purport to — and as a matter of law, could not — authorize the gaming activities outside Indian land that West Flagler believes are illegal, and that West Flagler’s dispute is instead with the Florida law that does authorize these activities.”

US Supreme Court Appeal is next

In its stay filing last week, WFA noted it will appeal the case to the Supreme Court. There is a 90-day window for this appeal according to court rules.

In July, Florida sports betting lawyer Daniel Wallach told PlayFL he believes the split of the decision between the DC Court of Appeals and the Ninth Circuit Court would cause the Supreme Court to take it up. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled in 2021 that the compact violated the IGRA. This was vacated by the Court of Appeals in June.

Along with an appeal to the Supreme Court, West Flagler Associates could ask SCOTUS for a stay of the Court of Appeals mandate.

State lawsuit on the subject coming eventually?

Filing a lawsuit in Florida state court could be another avenue for West Flagler Associates to pursue if appeals to the federal lawsuit bear no fruit.

It’s the second time in three months, the courts have hinted that a fight in state court could be coming. In a June decision, the Court of Appeals pointed toward this battle when a ruling noted a federal court wouldn’t address a state issue.

“Whether it is otherwise lawful for a patron to place bets from non-tribal land within Florida may be a question for that state’s courts, but it is not the subject of this litigation and not for us to decide,” the Circuit Court noted in its ruling.

How did we get here with online sports gambling?

The Legislature and the Seminole Tribe came to an agreement on a gaming compact in 2021 that could eventually bring in $1 billion in revenue annually, according to one government official.

The compact, which was passed in a special session that year, authorized the tribe the right to offer sports betting, along with the ability to add craps and roulette as gambling table options in their casinos.

The tribe launched Hard Rock Bet in November 2021 and began accepting wagers. However, West Flagler Associates filed a lawsuit versus the Department of the Interior in the summer of 2021, arguing that the new compact violated the IGRA. In November 2021, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, thereby vacating the tribe-state of Florida deal. A couple of weeks after that, the Seminoles took their betting app offline.

The US government appealed that decision, and in June, the Court of Appeals made its ruling vacating the judge’s ruling.

Photo by Shutterstock / Illustration by PlayFL
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Jason Jarrett

Jason is the managing editor PlayFL.com and eight other states' websites, covering sports betting and gambling in the two states. He has more than 25 years of journalism experience, spending nearly 10 years as a senior editor at the Austin American-Statesman.

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