Florida Sports Betting Battle Nearing Another Critical Decision

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Jan 4, 2024 12:00 AM
Though Florida sports betting is up and running across the state once again, it's clear the legal battle is far from over as we begin 2024.

The start of 2024 could bring big news for the future of Florida sports betting. Whether that huge development is a positive remains to be seen.

When sports betting in Florida was relaunched towards the end of 2023 following a two-year shutdown, many assumed it marked a permanent shift in The Sunshine State. Sure, West Flagler Associates, a Florida-based gaming operator, was still trying to salvage the lawsuit that shuddered gambling services back in 2021. The United States Supreme Court, in fact, has been deliberating on the matter for some time. Still, the presumption was that the litigation turned a corner overall. The Florida Supreme Court didn’t just rule to uphold the gaming compact between the Seminole tribe and state government once or twice. They did so on a handful of occasions, rejecting numerous attempts and appeals and calls for a “stay of operations” from West Flagler Associates.

On top of that, the relaunch itself was supposed to speak volumes. Surely the Seminole tribe wouldn’t resume their retail and online sports betting services in Florida if they thought their operations were in jeopardy of being halted again. That sentiment only strengthened when the Seminole tribe rolled out Florida sports betting across the entire state in December.

And yet, as we wrap up the first week of January 2024, another shutdown is exactly what the Seminole tribe and Florida sports gambling faces. 

The Latest Florida Sports Betting Obstacle is Not What Many Assumed

Just a few weeks ago, the biggest threat to Florida sports betting appeared to be the federal government. If the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the case and sided with West Flagler Associates, it would result in The Sunshine State repealing their sports gambling operations for a second time. 

However, while this scenario remains a potential roadblock, it’s not the obstacle facing the Seminole Tribe now. The latest issue lies with the Florida Supreme Court…again. West Flagler Associates recently filed another motion that experts in the sports betting industry believe could compel them to revoke the gambling agency they afforded the Seminoles not even three months ago. Here is Forrest Saunders of NBC 5 in West Palm Beach with the full scoop:

Justices at the Florida Supreme Court are now mulling whether or not to weigh in on a legal challenge alleging the bets are an illegal expansion of gaming under the state constitution. During the holiday break on Tuesday of last week, West Flagler Associates — which represents racing and track betting companies — made a final plea for the high court to take up the case. The group wants justices to strike down the practice, considering it a violation of Amendment 3 in the state Constitution — a 2018 provision that empowers voters to decide whether more gaming is needed in Florida. Attorneys wrote that justices should step in to ‘vindicate the People's exclusive right to control the expansion of casino gambling in Florida.’”

In previous attempts to block Florida sports betting services provided by the Seminole Tribe, West Flagler Associates focused on whether their operations violated the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act. The newest argument constitutes a different approach. 

The question is: Will it be successful?

Why Is This Attempt to Shut Down Florida Sports Betting Different from the Others?

West Flagler Associates has typically spotlighted the Seminoles’ use of their Florida online sports betting app in their prior filings. The 2021 gaming compact allows customers to place wagers while on tribal property. But the Seminoles’ application functioned just like any of the other online sportsbooks in the United States. This is to say, users were—and are—able to place a wager from anywhere in the region.

In response to this claim, the Seminoles have repeatedly—and effectively—argued that their Florida sports betting app is an extension of tribal property, because the servers are located on tribal land. This logic didn’t hold up in the District Courts a couple of years ago. But it has panned out in their favor multiple times at the Florida Supreme Court level.

The Seminoles are up against a different claim this time around, though. West Flagler Associates is essentially alleging that the tribe’s use of online sports betting apps violates a law that says voters must approve of any gambling expansion.

This protocol isn’t breaking news. It is the standard across most of the country. The vast majority of states with legal online sports betting needed specific initiatives to appear on a general election ballot. While gaming compacts are a legal way of circumventing that step, they usually do not apply to the legalization of online sports betting anywhere in the United States.

When framed this way, West Flagler Associates’ claim takes on new life. And it’s why the Florida high court has spent more time mulling over the matter than their previous appeals. 

Will Florida Sports Betting be Revoked Yet Again in 2024?

To be honest, we don’t know.

Forgive us for not offering a more definitive answer. But this entire process has amounted to more than two years’ worth of twists and turns and stark shifts in momentum and sentiment. The fact is, we won’t know the fate of Florida sports betting for sure until it’s actually determined.

To that end, the outcome here may not matter a great deal. Indeed, it could result in a revocation of Florida sports betting for the time being. But the federal court’s ruling was always going to matter the most. 

If the Florida high court repeals sports betting, the United States Supreme Court will have the power to overturn it. Granted, this presumes they decide to hear the case. Many experts believe they ultimately will. But this scenario also assumes the United States Supreme Court rules to uphold the Seminole Tribe’s sports betting compact. That is far from a given. 

And so, once more, we wait for a verdict. The Florida Supreme Court’s decision could come at any time. Depending on what it is, the future of sports betting in The Sunshine State could look dramatically different.

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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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