The Biden administration has weighed in on a legal battle regarding online sports betting in Florida, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to allow an appeals court ruling to move forward. The ruling could determine whether the Seminole Tribe of Florida can offer online sports betting throughout the state.
Background: The Florida Gambling Dispute
The legal dispute stems from a gambling deal known as a compact, ratified by Florida lawmakers in 2021. The compact, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr., allows for mobile sports wagers throughout the state, with betting handled on tribal property via computer servers.
Pari-mutuel companies, West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., filed a lawsuit in 2021, arguing that the compact was designed to circumvent a 2018 state constitutional amendment that required voter approval for casino gambling in Florida.
Supreme Court Involvement: Chief Justice’s Temporary Halt
According to USA Legal Betting, Chief Justice John Roberts temporarily halted the appeals court ruling on October 12. The halt came in response to the pari-mutuel companies’ request for a stay, as they prepared to challenge the appeals court ruling. Chief Justice Roberts recalled and stayed the “mandate,” the final step in the appeals court ruling, pending further order. He also directed the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees tribal gambling, to respond to the pari-mutuels’ stay request.
Biden Administration’s Response: U.S. Solicitor General’s Argument
U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, representing the Department of the Interior, responded with a 29-page filing. Prelogar disputed the arguments raised by the pari-mutuel companies, asserting that the Supreme Court is unlikely to take up the challenge to the appeals court ruling. The core of the lawsuit is whether the compact, allowing betting throughout the state, violates the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
Consistency with IGRA: Florida Compact
Prelogar contended that the appeals court correctly determined that IGRA only regulates gaming on Indian lands.
She argued that a tribal-state compact can address other issues, including activities off tribal lands, without violating IGRA. The Florida compact, according to Prelogar, aligns with IGRA as it authorizes gaming activities on Indian lands while also covering state authorization for gaming activities on non-Indian lands. State Law and Pending Case: Florida Supreme Court. Prelogar pointed out that the pari-mutuel companies have filed a separate case in the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that the sports-betting plan contravenes the 2018 state constitutional amendment. She suggested that the Florida Supreme Court could provide a resolution if it concludes that the Florida Legislature’s authorization of wagering off Indian lands is impermissible under state law.
Chief Justice’s Move and Nationwide Implications
Chief Justice Roberts’ order did not provide reasons for temporarily halting the appeals court ruling. The pari-mutuel companies argued in their stay request that IGRA does not permit the U.S. interior secretary to approve a compact allowing gambling off tribal lands. They also highlighted the nationwide significance of the appeals court ruling, raising questions about states and tribes’ ability to use IGRA compacts to allow gaming off Indian lands.
Impact on Seminole Tribe and Pari-Mutuel Companies
The Seminole Tribe briefly introduced the Hard Rock SportsBook mobile app in 2021 amid legal disputes but stopped accepting wagers and deposits following a judge’s ruling. West Flagler Associates holds three jai alai licenses, while Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. operates as Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida.
Conclusion: The Legal Battle Continues
The Biden administration’s push for the appeals court ruling to proceed in the Florida gambling dispute underscores the complex legal landscape surrounding tribal gaming, federal law, and state regulations. As the legal battle continues, it remains uncertain whether the Seminole Tribe will ultimately be able to offer online sports betting throughout the state, or if the matter will have far-reaching implications for tribal gaming compacts across the nation.