Appellate Court Schedules Oral Arguments In Florida Sports Betting Lawsuit

Written By Steve Schult on November 10, 2022
Oral arguments Florida sports betting appeal

The D.C. Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the Florida sports betting lawsuit next month.

In an Oct. 21 filing, the court scheduled oral arguments for Dec. 14. Then, a merits panel is the only thing left before a ruling.

Judges will hear oral arguments exactly a month after the federal government and the Seminole Tribe file their final briefs next week.

However, regardless of the outcome, the loser will most likely take this to the U.S. Supreme Court.

How we got here

In April 2021, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe agreed to a new 30-year gaming compact. The highlight of the deal was a legalized online and brick-and-mortar Florida sports betting industry.

But the compact gave the Seminoles exclusivity over online betting and a near-monopoly in the retail industry. Pari-mutuel facilities could open a sportsbook but would do so as a vendor of the tribe and give 40% of its revenue to the Seminoles.

West Flagler Associates, the owners of two pari-mutuels, filed suit immediately after the legislature approved the deal. The Seminoles launched their online sportsbook last November. But a U.S. Circuit Court judge ruled the sports betting provisions violated federal standards. Thus, she invalidated the entire compact and the short-lived industry was shuttered.

The Department of the Interior, which approved the compact at the federal level through inaction, and the Seminole Tribe both appealed Judge Dabney Friedrich’s ruling. Oral arguments basically mark the end of the initial appeal.

Seminole Tribe gets a seat at the table too

The original lawsuit filed by West Flagler listed DOI Secretary Deb Haaland as the defendant. Haaland was the one responsible for letting the compact become law.

The Seminoles filed a motion for limited intervention, but Friedrich blocked their request in the circuit court. They appealed her decision in the appellate court and oral arguments are their last chance to make their case.

If the tribe is allowed to intervene, they will certainly file for the case to be dismissed. They can cite their sovereign status as cause. Most legal experts believe a judge would grant the dismissal.

In that scenario, the compact would become law again and the Seminoles would likely reopen their online sportsbook immediately.

The Seminoles will get the same outcome if the court rules in favor of the DOI and overturns Friedrich’s decision.  But that is contingent on the DOI’s arguments holding up, which is much more of a tossup.

Feds seek redemption in oral arguments

Between the three groups at oral arguments, the federal government likely has the most at stake. It allows them to clarify some of their points in what were clunky and sometimes contradictory filings.

On the other hand, Legal Sports Report’s John Holden called West Flagler’s filing “powerful.” Furthermore, a layperson like myself could easily read through and comprehend their arguments.

The consensus seems to be that West Flagler wrote the more effective briefs. As a result, the feds have to make up ground during the final stage of the appeal.

How oral arguments work

Oral arguments are essentially the verbal presentation of their written briefs. It is not an opportunity to present new facts or arguments.

Instead, it’s an opportunity to clarify positions as judges will ask questions about the arguments in their filings.

What does this do to the timeline?

In the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the judge authoring the majority opinion must release his ruling within 180 days of oral arguments. If there is a dissenting opinion, the decision is usually released much closer to the end of that timeframe.

According to that math, there should be a decision by mid-June next year. That’s the worst-case scenario.

But all that changes if the Seminoles are allowed to intervene. Then, the tribe will file its motion to dismiss, and the court will have to rule on that before deciding on the initial appeal.

Based on a similar court case involving tribes in Washington state, the court will likely take another 2-3 months before deciding whether dismissal is appropriate.

In the unlikely event it isn’t dismissed, Florida gamblers won’t get a ruling until sometime in Q3 of 2023.

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Written by
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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