West Flagler Files Final Brief with SCOTUS on Florida Sports Betting

Written By Adam Hensley on May 23, 2024
A lawyer drafting a legal document

The US Supreme Court now has all the necessary paperwork to consider the lawsuit from West Flagler Associates challenging Florida’s sports betting model.

West Flagler contends the existing gaming compact between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe is illegal. They contend the provisions allowing sports betting are against federal laws.

The ownership group of a Florida pari-mutuel filed a response to the Department of the Interior brief on Tuesday. Now, it’s up to SCOTUS to decide whether to hear the case. Four of the nine judges must agree to hear the case for it to be heard.

Tribe got a district court ruling overturned

The 2021 compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida gave the tribe exclusive control over Florida sports betting.

West Flagler filed a lawsuit challenging the compact shortly after the federal government approved the compact in August 2021. They argued that Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland wrongfully signed off on the compact because online sports betting would occur off tribal lands.

In November, a district court judge ruled in West Flagler’s favor. Judge Dabney Freidrich said the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

However, the tribe and the federal government appealed the ruling. Last summer, the D.C. Court of Appeals overturned Friedrich’s decision. The ruling basically said that as long as sports betting servers were on tribal lands, it didn’t matter where a bettor was in Florida when a wager was made.

West Flagler then amended the lawsuit to include its claim that only Florida residents can approve gambling expansion. The Supreme Court has granted two extensions, which has delayed the case. With its last filing in response to a final brief from the Interior Department, West Flagler must wait for the Court to decide if it will hear the case.

West Flagler contends DOI argument makes its case

The Department of Interior (DOI) contends the gaming compact does not violate the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Speaking on behalf of the DOI, Department of Justice attorneys argue the compact is perfectly legal.

“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 West Flagler’s brief, Hume Hamish argued that the DOI’s premise is why SCOTUS should hear its case.

“The centerpiece of the government’s IGRA argument is that the Court of Appeals correctly interpreted the compact as not authorizing any sports gaming off Indian lands and therefore the approval of the compact did not violate IGRA. By contrast, the government effectively concedes that if the compact authorized gaming off Indian lands, then its approval would have violated IGRA, and the Court of Appeals’ decision would have conflicted with decisions of this Court and other circuits, necessitating review and reversal by this Court.

“Thus, the central IGRA question boils down to whether the Court of Appeals properly held that it could ‘interpret’ the compact as not authorizing sports gaming off Indian lands. If it did, then no review is warranted. If it did not, then even the government implicitly concedes that review and reversal are needed.”

What’s next?

Daniel Wallach, a gaming law and sports betting attorney, said on X that there are three likely outcomes for what happens next.

One option is for the Court to hear the case. Should that happen, merits briefing and oral arguments could begin later this year or early 2025.

The second option, which Wallach said “happens roughly 95% of the time,” is that the Court will deny certiorari. That would mean the appellate court’s decision stands. In that instance, the status quo remains, and the tribe continues to have exclusivity over online sports betting in Florida.

He said a potential third option would be for the Court to issue a summary reversal when it grants certiorari, which would overturn the lower court’s decision without briefs or oral arguments on the case’s merits.

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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa, with experience covering online sports betting and gambling across Catena Media. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

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