The Supreme Court of Florida is considering a written brief submitted by West Flagler Associates that argues sports betting is a topic state voters can decide on. If the state’s high court agrees, the issue of Florida online sports betting could be placed on a ballot for consideration in the near future.
A decision that agrees with West Flagler would also shut down mobile sports betting app Hard Rock Bet Florida, operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which claims it has a right to offer sports betting in the state.
The possibility of retail and online sports betting in Florida has been complex and often contentious for many years. Courts have most recently sided with the Seminoles, levying decisions that allow the tribe to launch its mobile sportsbook app and offer in-person sports betting at its Florida casinos.
But critics, led by West Flagler, say Hard Rock Bet and the Seminole Tribe should not have a monopoly.
West Flagler’s 52-page written brief is the latest chapter in this saga. And one legal expert believes it’s just a precursor to a battle in the US Supreme Court.
Here’s what it says.
West Flagler: Amendment 3 covers sports betting in Florida
In its 52-page response to a Seminole Tribe brief, West Flagler argues Florida’s Amendment 3 requires voters to approve any expansion of gaming in the state. West Flagler, a Florida-based parimutuel betting operator, says online sportsbooks fall under the category the amendment’s language of “casino gambling.”
The Seminoles’ brief, to which West Flager is responding, argued sports betting is not included in Amendment 3, and that the amendment covers random-outcome games like slot machines and table games.
“This manufactured and artificial distinction directly conflicts with the compact,” writes Raquel A. Rodriguez, counsel for West Flagler, in the brief. “The compact defines a covered game to include ‘sports betting,’ just like slots and table games. Where subsection (b) lists card games and slot machines as examples of casino gambling, the compact similarly treats all sports betting as a gaming activity.”
In an attempt to turn its opponents against themselves, West Flagler includes previous comments from the Seminole Tribe and others that allegedly agree that voters can and must approve gaming expansion in Florida. These comments are from 2018, when the state was debating the addition of Amendment 3.
Gov. DeSantis is firmly on the side of the Seminole Tribe
Gov. Ron DeSantis opposes West Flagler and has argued that its case should be dismissed. DeSantis struck a deal between the state and the Seminole Tribe in 2020, and in 2021 a Florida gaming compact was approved that grants the nation exclusive rights to sports betting throughout Florida.
The Seminole Tribe, which owns Hard Rock casinos, as well as the branded restaurants, says the compact pertains to any types of gaming activity, and sports betting is not an expansion thereof.
So … is this headed for the US Supreme Court?
West Flagler is asking the court to halt Hard Rock Bet and put online sports betting in Florida up to a vote. If it does not receive a favorable ruling from Florida’s top court, it plans to appeal to the US Supreme Court in 2024. In fact, it received an extended deadline to file a case with the US Supreme Court until Feb. 8, 2024.
Daniel Wallach, a prominent US sports betting attorney based in Florida, posted on X (previously known as Twitter) that he thinks West Flagler’s brief is “compelling” but, in reality, this state-level appeal is “the undercard to the main event, which is SCOTUS.”
What are the chances the Florida court will side with West Flagler and wipe Hard Rock Bet off of app stores in the state? It seems unlikely, if one looks at the history of court rulings so far. Especially within the past few months.
The ball, as they say in sports, is now in the court of the State Supreme Court.