Unless this court grants this petition, casino gambling throughout the state in the form of off-reservation in-person and mobile sports betting will take effect It looks like both sides in the fight over legal, regulated sports betting in Florida can agree on something.
On Monday, the US Department of Interior (DOI) told a federal court that a lawsuit that two brick-and-mortar gaming facilities brought in 2021 to prevent sports betting and Hard Rock Bet from launching should have been filed in state court instead. The DOI argued that the issues the plaintiffs raised have more to do with the state than federal law.
That happened by the end of the day. Court records show the plaintiffs in the federal case — West Flagler Associates and the Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation, filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Florida just after 11:23 pm ET on Monday.
- Enjoy live streaming of popular events
- Great mobile betting experience
- Variety of betting markets on offer
Similar Argument, Different Venue
In their filing late Monday, the plaintiffs — West Flagler, which owns the Magic City Casino & Flagler Dog Track in Miami, and Bonita-Fort Myers, owner and operator of the Bonita Springs Poker Room, in the town of the same name — make arguments similar to the ones they laid out in federal court.
Their argument is three-fold. Specifically, that:
- Since passage of an amendment in 2018, the Florida Constitution prohibits an expansion of gaming without voter approval
- The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) only covers gaming on tribal lands, not the entire state
- Compacts between the Seminole Tribe and the State of Florida have historically been confined to tribal lands
Despite an initial win for the plaintiffs in federal district court in November 2021, the DOI prevailed on appeal to a three-judge panel on June 30. The plaintiffs asked the appellate court to rehear the case en banc (meaning with all 11 judges), but the court said no on September 11. West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers asked for a stay on September 15, but DOI on Monday said a stay “is not warranted.”
The DOI’s filing on Monday in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit includes the quip that the plaintiffs should have filed suit in federal court. Judging by their opening arguments, the plaintiffs are concerned about how their arguments have resonated in court.
“The appellate court’s reasoning makes clear the need for this court’s review,” attorneys for the plaintiffs told the Florida Supreme Court. They later added that “unless this court grants this petition, casino gambling throughout the state in the form of off-reservation in-person and mobile sports betting will take effect without the approval by the voters of Florida, as explicitly required by the text of [the 2018 amendment to] the Florida Constitution.”
Jeff Ifrah of Ifrah Law PLLC predicted such an argument was likely. He told pokerfuse earlier this month that if the plaintiffs in the federal case took their case to state court, they would be “challenging [that] the compact [between the Seminole Tribe and the State of Florida] violates state law because state law requires the voters to decide the issue.”
Ifrah did not return a message seeking comment on Tuesday.
Plaintiffs Say Server Location a Moot Point
The plaintiffs also argue that Florida lawmakers erred when they agreed to an amended gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. Under the amended compact, wagers to Hard Rock Bet would be considered on-reservation because that’s where the servers are located.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe signed an amended gaming compact in April 2021. The plaintiffs sued four months later.
“Both the State of Florida as well as the United States have acknowledged that a bet occurs both where the bettor is located when placing the bet and where the bet is accepted,” the plaintiffs told the Florida Supreme Court.
“The [US] Court of Appeals decision is consistent with the interpretation of where a bet is placed in analyzing why the 2021 compact did not authorize betting outside tribal lands.”
DeSantis, House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast), and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) are defendants in the state case.
The state case is West Flagler Associates Limited et al. v. Ron DeSantis et al. (No. SC2023-1333).