The journey to sports betting in the state of Florida has been a convoluted one. It was brought to life in 2021 for a month-long period before legal actions shut it down. Since then, it has remained in a legal limbo, one that is likely to continue following the decision by a federal court.
En Banc Hearing Denied
Last week in the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the owners of a pari-mutuel gaming operations were denied without explanation in their request for what is called an en banc hearing in front of the entire nine-judge panel. That decision came about after a June 2023 ruling in which a three-judge panel from the same appeals court, by a unanimous vote, reversed the decision of a lower court that the compact between entities in the state of Florida violated federal law.
The controversy began in 2021 when the governor of the state of Florida, Ron DeSantis, negotiated a compact with the Chairman of the Seminole Tribe, Marcellus Osceola, that would massively expand gaming in the state, including sports betting. Under that 30-year compact, the Seminoles would receive, among other new gaming options, the exclusive rights to sports betting in the state by operating kiosks in their casinos, offering connections through other card room and gaming outlets in the state, and through mobile platforms.
This is where the crux of the problems seemed to arise. This “hub and spoke” model – in which the gaming may occur in a location where it is not legal to gamble but, because the bet is being placed on servers located on Indian tribal lands, it is a legal act – has long been a hotly contested issue. After the compact was ratified by a rubber-stamp vote of Republican lawmakers in the capital of Tallahassee, it was the reason that the owners of the Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and the Bonita Springs Poker Room in Naples filed their lawsuit.
In November 2021 – and after the Seminole Tribe had opened its online sportsbook – a district judge, Dabney Friedrich, determined that the “hub and spoke” model violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and that Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland was wrong in letting the compact pass federal scrutiny. That meant that the Seminole Tribe had to shut down their sports betting operations, both on tribal casinos and online, and they have remained shut down since that ruling.
Is the Supreme Court Next?
With the denial of the en banc hearing by the Court of Appeals, the owners of the two gaming outlets have limited options at their disposal.
They could very well decide to cut their losses and end their legal actions. This would then allow the Seminoles to restart their operations and the 30-year compact would be enacted. That deal would pay out to the state of Florida $2.5 billion in the first five years alone, with increased revenues dependent on the increases in gaming with the Seminole properties.
The other option is the last chance that they would have – the U. S. Supreme Court. They could make a final appeal for a decision from the SCOTUS, who opened the doors to individual states determining their destinies regarding gaming with their 2018 decision that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992. That law restricted sports betting to only Nevada and other smaller areas but, after its rejection, it opened the rights to sports betting up to every state in the U. S.
Many think the appeal will be made to the SCOTUS and that they will hear the case. Because there have been conflicting decisions in the lower courts, it is prime for consideration from the U. S. Supreme Court. If they were to hear the case, the SCOTUS could then clean up some of the actions taken after they rejected PASPA, including how much reach the Department of the Interior has regarding tribal gaming.
Even if the appeal is made – and possibly fails – there are still other areas under attack with the proposed compact. The compact as it is written violates the Florida constitution in that it allows for an expansion of gambling without the approval of Florida voters, as mandated by an amendment passed in 2018. That case, however, won’t be moved forward until this current case is rectified.
Currently, the Seminoles have not restarted their sports betting operations, perhaps burned by the previous short-term operation back in 2021. If the SCOTUS decides to hear the case, then there is a likelihood that there will be no decision until June 2024, at the earliest, and possibly not be heard until the next term for the Court, which wouldn’t start until October 2024 (with decisions in 2025). There is also no indication yet as to whether there will be a request made to the Supreme Court by the casino owners regarding Florida sports betting.