West Flagler challenges Florida online sports betting with SCOTUS

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  • West Flagler Associates filed its long-awaited writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court today
  • Challenges the Seminole Tribe’s Gaming Treaty, which legalizes online sports betting outside of tribal lands
  • Asks the Supreme Court to consider three questions

West Flagler Associates filed its long-awaited brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the court to consider the legality of a gambling agreement that legalizes online sports betting outside of tribal lands.

West Flagler contends that the gaming agreement between Florida and the Seminole Tribe, which grants the tribe an online sports betting monopoly, violates the Florida Constitution and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Florida and the Seminole Tribe approved the 30-year gaming agreement in 2021, which grants the tribe exclusive retail and online sports betting rights in the state.

The Secretary of the Interior allowed the contract to be approved under IGRA and the DC Circuit confirmed the approval in 2023.

Now the Supreme Court must decide whether to hear the case or reject West Flagler’s request.

Three questions of legality

Hamish HumeCounsel from West Flagler Associates asked SCOTUS three questions for review in the deed of deed.

  1. Whether the IGRA approves the approval of an agreement that purports to enable a monopoly on online sports gambling throughout the state and outside Indian territories
  2. Whether an IGRA agreement violates the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) if it provides for Internet sports betting that is unlawful where many of the bets are placed
  3. Whether the Secretary’s approval of a tribal government compact violates equal protection principles when it grants a particular tribe a monopoly on online sports gaming outside of tribal lands while state law makes that conduct a criminal offense for everyone else

Hume notes that these questions are important not only for the state of Florida, but also for the nationwide precedent it will set for other state-tribal agreements if the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision is upheld.

“The D.C. Circuit’s decision allows Florida and the Tribe to have their cake and eat it too. The purpose of the pact is to provide a starting point for escaping Florida’s constitutional requirement for a popular referendum to authorize off-reservation sports betting. By upholding the Compact’s approval, the Court of Appeals inevitably allowed this fiction to flourish—while misinterpreting IGRA, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), and this Court’s equal protection jurisprudence,” he wrote.

Hume argues in the letter that the IGRA cannot authorize approval of a gaming contract that allows the tribe a monopoly on online sports betting. Nothing in the IGRA allows the Secretary of the Interior to approve a treaty that provides for gambling on Indian land, he wrote.

The contract also conflicts with the SCOTUS decision Michigan vs. Bay Mills, which does not allow “operational linkage between activities on and outside Indian territory in order to apply IGRA to gambling activities outside Indian territories”. The Circuit Opinion decision in this case did the opposite, Hume wrote, concluding that the minister was permitted to approve a treaty allowing gambling on Indian land.

Regarding the UIGEA, Hume argued in the letter that Florida law prohibits sports betting from anywhere in the state outside of tribal lands, including the placement of online sports bets in locations outside Indian lands, regardless of where the bets are accepted.

“This clear illegality of online sports betting under Florida state law means that the online sports gaming provisions in the Compact specifically provide for violations of UIGEA,” he wrote.

What’s next for Florida?

The U.S. Supreme Court will now decide whether to accept the writ of certiorari and the court will hear the case.

If SCOTUS rejects the petition, West Flagler’s path to court would be over. However, if it decides to accept the petition, a final decision on online sports betting in Florida likely wouldn’t come until late 2025.

Daniel Wallacha gambling law attorney, founder of Wallach Legal and UNHLaw Sports Wagering, said previously Sports betting cents that SCOTUS typically only hears between 60 and 80 cases per year, but receives many more requests.

West Flagler Associates also has a pending lawsuit challenging the online sports betting provision in the gaming agreement in the Florida Supreme Court.

How did Florida get here?

Florida’s sports betting journey began in 2021 when the state approved a 30-year gaming agreement that granted the Seminole Tribe exclusive retail and online sports betting rights in the state. The gambling agreement granted the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to online sports betting through a hub-and-spoke system, as well as expanded gambling rights in return for at least $2.5 billion over the first five years. The “hub and spoke” system allowed sports bets to be placed anywhere in the state as long as they were processed by computer servers on tribal land.

The Gaming Compact also allows casinos to offer craps and roulette.

The gambling contract was rejected by Friedrich in November 2021. Ultimately, Friedrich found that the treaty violated the conditions set by the IGRA, which limit tribal games to the boundaries of tribal areas. The Seminole Tribe argued in the gambling contract that the bets themselves were placed on tribal land because the servers that processed the online sports bets were located on tribal land.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia disagreed with her decision. The court reversed the district court’s opinion and ruled in favor of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haalandwho initially approved the gaming pact in June 2023.

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Robert Linnehan

Gambling
Regulatory author and editor

Regulatory author and editor

Gambling

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