The New Battleground For Florida Sports Betting Could Be State Courts

Written By Jason Jarrett on July 7, 2023

While some believe anti-gambling groups were delivered a knock-out blow last week regarding sports betting in Florida, one legal expert believes a state lawsuit “is coming” in regards to the 2021 Seminole-Florida gambling compact.

On June 30, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the compact, vacating a District Court’s decision in November 2021 that the deal violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. West Flagler Associates, which operated two casinos in the state at the time, and its various gaming entities sued to block the compact. The plaintiffs could file for a rehearing or appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.

Bob Jarvis, a gambling law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, however, thinks a new legal battleground will open that could stall the Seminole Tribe’s efforts. He believes other Florida gambling opponents will take up the fight in the state’s courts.

Anti-gambling expansion groups expected to take up the fight

Jarvis thinks No Casinos and its affiliates will make a move in Florida’s courts to challenge the compact’s validity in regard to the state Constitution. In doing so, he thinks it will file an injunction seeking a pause on Florida sports betting.

Billing itself as “Florida’s leading anti-gambling watchdog,” No Casinos was formed in the late 1970s to protect the state’s long-term interests from the gaming industry. Jarvis believes the group will lead the next charge against the compact. Representatives for No Casinos did not respond to a PlayFL request for comment on whether a lawsuit is impending.

“A lawsuit is coming. For all I know, they’ve already filed it,” Jarvis said. “It’s coming very quickly, and it’s going to be in the state court.”

In the June 30 decision, the Court of Appeals hinted at this battle when the 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.

In 2021, No Casinos was part of a coalition that filed a federal lawsuit to strike down the tribal-state compact. The lawsuit was dismissed in June 2022.

Why a sports betting state lawsuit could have no merit

Jarvis believes No Casinos will argue that a 2018 constitutional amendment would stop any gambling expansion. Amendment 3, passed by 71% of the voters, gave Florida residents the “exclusive right” to authorize gaming in the state, blocking the state Legislature from doing so. It specifically addresses “casino gambling” in its verbiage. There was no mention of sports betting or mobile sports betting in the amendment’s language, and Jarvis believes this is a crucial detail.

“(The amendment) talks about casino gambling and any expansion of casino gambling, and then it defines what casino gambling is,” Jarvis said. “It defines casino gambling as craps, roulette and slot machines – the things that have always been a part of casinos.

“Sports betting has never, in this country, been a traditional part of casino gambling because, until 2018, sports gambling was only something you could do in Nevada casinos.”

How craps and roulette fit into a potential filing

The terms of the 2021 compact would allow craps and roulette at current casinos on tribal land. On its face, that looks like an expansion of gambling in the state. Jarvis notes, however, the Florida Constitution protects gambling on tribal grounds.

Article X, Section 30 of the Florida Constitution points out that gambling on Native American tribal land is not subject to the 2018 ballot initiative since gaming compacts between the Seminoles and the state are governed by Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The Seminoles donated more than $24 million to a political action committee to support Amendment 3’s passage.

“None of what is going on in (Amendment 3) has anything to do with the Indians,” Jarvis said.

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Jason Jarrett

Jason is the managing editor 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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