SCOTUS Denies Hearing FL Sports Betting Case, Cement Seminole Control

Written By Steve Schult on June 17, 2024
A denial document getting signed

The United States Supreme Court put to rest the biggest question surrounding the Florida gambling industry.

Monday morning, the court announced they would not hear the appeal in the lawsuit about the Florida sports betting model.

As a result, the nearly three-year legal battle between a pari-mutuel ownership group and the Seminole Tribe is officially over.

Furthermore, the “hub-and-spoke” model outlined in the 2021 Florida gaming compact will remain intact. In other words, the Seminoles will keep their near-monopoly over the Sunshine State’s sports betting market.

Court eliminates any doubt about the validity of compact

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe agreed to a new gaming compact in the summer of 2021. It marked the first gaming expansion in Florida in over a decade.

Most notably, it legalized sports betting in Florida. However, it gave the tribe near total control over the industry.

The Seminole-owned Hard Rock Bet app is the only online sportsbook permitted in the state.

Pari-mutuel facilities can operate a brick-and-mortar sportsbook, but they must do so as a contracted vendor of the tribe. In that scenario, the pari-mutuel must give the tribe 40% of the sportsbook’s revenue.

The Department of the Interior, which regulates tribal activity at the federal level, approved the compact through inaction.

As soon as the feds gave the tribe the green light, West Flagler Associates filed state and federal lawsuits over the compact’s legality. West Flagler owns Bonita Springs Poker Room and used to own Magic City Casino in Miami.

The suit began a multi-year battle over the compact’s legality.

Their state-level suit was tossed out of court, but a district court judge ruled the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The judge forced the tribe to shutter their online sportsbook and the compact was no longer law.

But the tribe and the federal government appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals. Last summer, the court overturned the district-level ruling.

The ruling allowed the Seminoles to relaunch sports betting and expand gaming options in their casino while West Flagler appealed one last time. This time to the nation’s highest court.

With Monday’s decision not to hear the case, any legal questions about the compact have been squashed. The tribe has control of sports betting until 2051.

Decision should have ripple effects on the West Coast

The court was nearly unanimous in its decision. With Justice Brett Kavanaugh as the lone dissenter, the court was 8-1 in favor of denying the case.

It is obviously important for Florida, but the ripple effects will stretch much farther than the Florida borders.

The decision creates a legal precedent to allow tribes to legalize online gambling through the compacting process. In other words, tribes can work directly with state governments to amend their gaming compacts.

They don’t need the legislature to pass a bill to allow certain types of online gambling. That is good news for the largest state in the country.

California made efforts to legalize sports betting through a ballot initiative in 2022. However, the state gave its tribes exclusivity over casino gambling. As a result, the tribes squashed any and all efforts that didn’t put them in charge of sports betting.

With this ruling, those entities can work directly with the governments that signed their compact and legalize online sports betting that way.

Similar moves could be made in Minnesota, where there is a strong tribal presence and failed sports betting efforts in the legislature.

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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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