Florida Supreme Court Won’t Hear Sports Betting Case, Legal Expert Says

Written By Adam Hensley on February 9, 2024
A picture of a gavel for a story about how one legal expert doesn't think the Florida Supreme Court will hear West Flagler's appeal.

The ownership group of a Florida pari-mutuel facility isn’t happy with the current landscape of the Florida gambling industry.

West Flagler Associates, which owns Bonita Springs Poker Room and formerly Magic City Casino, filed federal and state lawsuits over the Florida sports betting provisions in the latest gaming compact.

Initially, West Flagler got a favorable ruling. Thus, the 2021 Florida gaming compact was nullified. But their federal win was overturned by the DC Court of Appeals last summer.

Now, West Flagler argued to the Florida Supreme Court that restarting legal sports betting violates the state’s constitution. Specifically, the group claims that sports betting falls under casino gambling. As a result, the expansion under the compact, and its reinstatement is an illegal expansion of gaming.

If the group gets its way, sports betting could come to a screeching halt. But will the court entertain the argument?

Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, told PlayFL that he doesn’t think so.

What to know about the challenge against Florida sports betting

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is the main beneficiary of the gaming compact with the state through Gov. Ron Desantis. The compact allows for Florida sports betting exclusively at the tribe’s casinos and through its Hard Rock Bet Florida app.

According to West Flagler’s argument, that violates Amendment 3 of the Florida Constitution. The amendment, approved by voters in 2018, says that if casino gambling expands, it must be voted upon by the people of Florida.

Specifically, West Flagler points to a discussion back in 2018. At that time, those in favor and opposed to Amendment 3 “agreed that Amendment 3 would require a ballot initiative to authorize sports betting.”

The Seminole Tribe claims that sports betting does not fall under Amendment 3. DeSantis has argued that the West Flagler case be dismissed.

What could happen with West Flagler Associates’ case?

In an email to PlayFL, Jarvis said he doesn’t think Florida’s high court will end up hearing the group’s challenge.

“I predict that the Florida Supreme Court will not hear West Flagler’s challenge but instead will transfer the case to the Leon County Circuit Court (a trial court), so that the case can proceed in normal fashion.”

Sports betting has always been a contentious issue in the Sunshine State.

In 2021, the Seminole Tribe originally launched the Hard Rock Bet app and took sports wagers. West Flagler filed a number of lawsuits after the first compact, and in turn, a U.S. district court judge ruled in their favor. The Hard Rock Bet app, as well as sports betting as a whole in Florida, came to a close just weeks after its launch.

The DC Court of Appeals overturned that ruling late last year,  and sports betting returned in December.

Is there any chance the US Supreme Court could take the case?

Jarvis doesn’t think the issue will make it to the US Supreme Court either.

“The US Supreme Court is not going to take this case. The case presents no issue of interest to the Court. There is no national need for a ruling by the Court. And the Court, if it were to take this case, would simply affirm the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Where the US Supreme Court does factor into the Florida sports betting discussion is a different but related issue. Sides of sports betting await a ruling from the Court on whether the current Florida sports betting compact violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Currently, those who are 21 and older can place sports bets on the Hard Rock Bet app anywhere within Florida’s borders or at one of the Seminole Tribe’s casinos.

Will any changes come to Florida’s current sports betting landscape?

Anything can happen, of course, but Jarvis doesn’t see this case leading to any major changes.

It’s also important to note that of the Florida Supreme Court’s seven justices, five of them were appointed by DeSantis, Jarvis said.

“The Seminoles are offering their games (both in-person and online), and while there may be some temporary hiccups in the future (one can never fully predict the course of litigation), in the end the courts are going to leave well enough alone.”

What is safe to assume, though, is that Florida doesn’t want a repeat of 2021. Considering that Florida’s relaunched sports betting industry is just a few months old, it’s not out of this world to assume this case could move along quickly in one direction or another.

Photo by PlayFL
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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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