All Eyes on California Sports Betting Debate Following Recent United States Supreme Court Decision in Florida

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Jul 9, 2024 12:00 AM
Could Governor Gavin Newsom follow Florida's lead in California sports betting discussions?

Get ready for Florida to be brought up a lot during California sports betting discussions.

On the heels of the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) deciding not to hear the case challenging the validity of sports betting in Florida, industry insiders are wondering how the Seminole Tribe’s gaming compact may impact other states. California sits at or near the top of that list. Which, to be sure, is hardly a surprise. Everyone wants to know what the future holds for sports betting in California. They have the largest population in the United States, by nearly 9 million people, making it a desirable market for online sportsbooks.

Still, the Golden State isn’t being linked to the Sunshine State purely because of its revenue potential. Really, it’s just as much about the roadblocks that are so far impeding the legalization of California sports betting. Because when you dig into it, there are some similarities. 

Specifically, we’re talking about tribal opposition to top online sportsbooks in the United States entering the market. California tribes have so far insisted the rights to legal sports betting in the Golden State rest with them. They are willing to have mobile betting site operators enter in supporting partnership capacities, but they have made it clear, since before 2022, they won’t agree to independent licenses for online betting apps

So, what exactly does the most recent development in Florida have to do with all of this? Let’s go ahead and explore.

A Quick Breakdown of the Florida Sports Betting Decision

Before we go into how SCOTUS’ decision (or lack thereof) could serve as inspiration to California tribes, let’s first review what’s actually going on in the Sunshine State.

The Seminole tribe brokered a gaming compact with Governor Ron DeSantis a few years ago that gave them sports betting exclusivity. However, upon rolling it out at the end of 2021, a casino and racetrack operator, West Flagler Associates, sued to have operations suspended. They argued that the Seminole tribe’s sports betting compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). 

According to the IGRA, games of chance must take place on tribal property. But the Seminoles’ agreement with the Sunshine State allowed them to operate a Florida sports betting app that accepted wagers from anywhere in the region—even if customers were off tribal land. The Seminoles, in turn, argued that they weren’t violating the IGRA. Their position? Because their Florida sports betting site servers were on tribal land, their Hard Rock sports betting app was an extension of that property.

Shortly after Florida sports betting launched in 2021, a United States District Court judge ruled in favor of West Flagler. Sports wagering operations in the Sunshine State were subsequently suspended. But the Florida Supreme Court eventually upheld the gaming compact. This freed up the Seminole tribe to relaunch Florida sports betting operations by the end of 2023. 

And now, because SCOTUS will not be hearing the case, it seems as if the Seminoles’ gaming compact along with their interpretation of the IGRA will stand indefinitely.

Can Florida Serve as a Model for California Sports Betting?

This now brings us to the potential impact the SCOTUS decision could have on California sports betting. As ESPN’s Doug Greenberg wrote:

Alabama, which has just one federally recognized tribe, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, could easily follow Florida's lead given the similarities in singular tribal power. But the state everyone will be keeping an eye on, due to its size and complicated tribal politics, is California.

“‘This is obviously an important decision for tribes throughout the country, not just California. This affirms the sovereign and legal rights of tribes with regard to the future sports wagering market,’ Pechanga tribal chairman Mark Macarro said in a statement to ESPN. ‘Tribal leaders have been clear -- it is for tribes, and not others, to decide what the future will look like, and this decision confirms that view.’”

Some might take this to mean California sports betting would follow the exact model set up in Florida. But that’s simply not going to happen. Just two federally recognized tribes are located in the Sunshine State. There are over 100 tribes in California. A gaming compact that consolidates sports betting power to just one or a handful of them isn’t going to fly.

On top of that, because of the scope and scale of tribes, any bill that legalizes California will almost assuredly require a constitutional amendment. That means putting the matter before voters on a general election ballot. Since Florida was negotiating with one tribe, it didn’t have to go that route. The Golden State will have no such options.

Here’s How the SCOTUS Ruling Could Actually Impact California

This is not to say that the SCOTUS ruling won’t influence California sports betting negotiations in the future. It absolutely could. We would go as far as to say it absolutely will.

As Macarro told ESPN, Florida’s situation reaffirms that tribal collaboration is imperative to the legalization of sports betting in California as well as many other states. SCOTUS refusing to put the Sunshine State’s gaming compact under review should embolden tribes in the Golden State to continue holding the line.

Consider what happened in 2022. California tribes had their own proposition on the ballot that would have legalized sports betting on tribal land only. Though the measure failed to pass, this likely had more to do with a lack of alignment. Remember, there was another proposition that would have also legalized California online sports betting

Many are concerned the same division will permeate the next round of legal gambling discussions. But the situation in Florida could, theoretically, be used as a precedent by California tribes to sway more members of congress. And if they’re successful, it may ensure that a tribal-centric California sports betting bill is the only one that makes it through the House and Senate and, eventually, onto a general election ballot.

Of course, we could be reading too much into what’s happened in Florida. Then again, it’s clearly a development that has registered among tribes in California. We’ll know whether they intend to try using it to their advantage in 2025, when the state legislature reconvenes.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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