The 2023 college football season is less than a week away and the 2023 National Football League season is set to be in just over two weeks. Sports bettors across the nation are taking advantage of their offerings in 38 states – well, make that 37. Florida’s convoluted sports betting path took another turn last week as a request for an en banc hearing was filed by the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state of Florida and the Seminole Indian tribe of Florida.
Full Appeals Court to Hear the Case
Two gaming operations in the Sunshine State, the Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County, FL, and the Bonita Springs Poker Room in Naples/Fort Myers, FL, asked for a full review by the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday of last week. In their request, attorneys representing the two gaming entities stated that the overturning of a previous decision by the DC appeals court was “erroneous and will create confusion.” The businesses are focusing on how gaming is being offered, which they feel violates the federal Indian gaming regulations.
The request for an en banc hearing is not out of line. In the Court of Appeals, there is normally a three-judge panel that will hear a case and render a decision. This panel isn’t the final arbiter of a decision, however; if asked for, the aggrieved party can request that the entirety of the Court of Appeals for that district. In the DC Court of Appeals, a nine-judge panel of active jurists led by Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, an appointee of President George Bush (“Dubya”), would meet to hear the case.
The nine judges will hear the case and, once they render a decision (either for the pari-mutuel businesses or for the state of Florida and the Seminoles), whichever side comes out on the losing end has one remaining option. They can appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court, which would then decide whether to hear the case or not. Only approximately 80-100 cases are heard per year in the SCOTUS, so it is a tough haul to even get considered for a decision.
“Hub-and-Spoke” Betting in Question
The question at hand is the “hub-and-spoke” model that was the central feature of the 30-year compact signed in 2021 by Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe chair Marcellus Osceola Jr. In that model, the gaming servers for mobile sports betting are on the grounds of the Seminole Tribe. Instead of having bettors physically on the property, as required by the state (Florida has convoluted gaming laws, to say the least), the Seminoles would be allowed to accept wagers from anywhere in the state.
After the compact was signed, it was supposed to be approved by the Department of the Interior, which oversees Indian gaming in the U. S. The Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, did not offer an opinion on the pact before the 45-day period expired in 2021, so it was assumed that the federal government signed off on the deal. The Seminoles even went so far as to begin accepting mobile sports betting wagers in the fall of 2021.
That was before the two gaming entities filed their lawsuit. In District Court, Judge Dabney Friedrich agreed with the two companies that the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act because it allowed for gaming to take place on non-Indian gaming land. For roughly eighteen months, this was the law of the land as the Seminoles shut down their online sports betting operations.
Another twist occurred in June of this year, however. That three-judge panel for the DC Court of Appeals overruled Friedrich, stating that he made a mistake because the compact authorized gaming on and off Indian lands. That is the crux of the question is whether that compact had the authority to be able to change Florida law, with the Seminoles saying that the three-court review had it right and the two businesses saying that Friedrich was correct with his ruling.
There is no clue whether the Court of Appeals will accept the motion for the en banc hearing. The plaintiffs in the case waited until the very end of the 45-day appeal process, and the Court of Appeals could take quite some time in determining whether they will accept the motion. The DC appeals court has not held an en banc hearing in two years but, if they accept the motion, it will further delay the implementation of the compact signed in 2021 and continue the pause on sports betting in Florida.