The battle to bring sports betting to Florida took another turn this week.
West Flagler Associates, which owns three gaming properties in Florida, has been fighting against the 2021 compact deal between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The compact seemingly allowed online sports betting in Florida as long as it took place at Seminole-owned properties.
This week, West Flagler, along with Bonita-Fort Meyers Corporation, filed a lawsuit with the Florida Supreme Court in an effort to block the compact. They claim that only voters can approve an expansion of gaming in the Sunshine State.
West Flagler also is the plaintiff in a two-year-old federal lawsuit and is expected to petition the US Supreme Court to decide the issue.
West Flagler files lawsuit with Florida Supreme Court
Florida sports betting was launched near the end of 2021 after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, on behalf of the state, signed a compact with the Seminole Tribe that allowed sports betting on Seminole-owned properties. The tribe owns several Hard Rock casino resorts in Florida and elsewhere.
West Flagler Associates, which owns Magic City Casino in Miami and two other gaming properties in the state, quickly sued the US Department of Interior, claiming the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. A US District Court ruled for WFA in November 2021 and shut down the Seminole’s Hard Rock Bet Florida sports betting app that had been in operation for a couple months. The DOI appealed that decision and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the circuit court’s decision.
Earlier this month, the Appeals Court refused to offer a rehearing after a plea from West Flagler Associates, basically saying it should be tried in a state court. WFA is expected to file a motion on that decision with the US Supreme Court while also filing the constitutional challenge with the Florida Supreme Court.
At issue is whether the 2021 compact that allowed sports betting is constitutional. The tribe argues the deal allows it to offer gaming online as long as the servers handling the bets are located on land owned by the Seminoles. WFA claims the compact never was intended to be a blanket approval for any type of gaming online, such as online casinos and sports betting.
West Flagler and other critics have also argued the compact is unfair to commercial interests.
How sports betting relates to casino gambling at core of dispute
West Flagler is expected to argue that the Seminole compact is unconstitutional because any expansion of gambling in Florida requires approval directly from the voters. They contend that online sports betting constitutes “off-reservation” betting and violates Amendment 3 of the Florida Constitution, Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, told PlayFL.
“(The amendment) talks about casino gambling and any expansion of casino gambling, and then it defines what casino gambling is. 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.”
DeSantis named as co-defendant in lawsuit
The lawsuit filed with the Florida Supreme Court names DeSantis and state Speaker of the House of Florida Paul Renner as defendants for their part in the compact bargained with the Seminoles. Also named is Kathleen Passidomo, president of the Florida Senate.
The complaint (entered as West Flagler Assoc., Ltd. v. DeSantis, Fla., No. SC2023-1333), which was filed on Monday, Sept. 26, states that “[the] Governor and Legislature have attempted to avoid the Florida Constitution’s mandate by having the 2021 Compact and the Implementing Law ‘deem’ online bets placed anywhere in the state to have occurred ‘exclusively’ on tribal lands where the bets are received – a transparent artifice.”
West Flagler’s petition contends that DeSantis exceeded his authority by entering into the compact. They argue that, as the compact is written, sports bets can be made anywhere is the state, not just on tribal lands.