United States Department of Interior Criticizes the Florida Sports Betting Appeal

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Sep 3, 2023 12:00 AM
The United States Department of the Interior is not happy with the Florida sports betting appeal.

The United States Department of Interior has chosen a side in the Florida sports betting battle. And it’s the same side they were always on: the side of the Seminole.

This, of course, isn’t especially shocking. To get sports betting in Florida up and running back in 2021, the Department of Interior needed to approve of the gaming compact agreed upon by the Seminoles and The Sunshine State. They ultimately decided to green light the deal, which helped allow the Seminoles to offer sports betting on tribal properties.

Now, however, the definition of “tribal properties” has become a matter of debate. In fact, it is the issue driving this entire litigation process, which began nearly two years ago, at the end of 2021. Whether the Department of Interior specifically okayed the gaming compact while expecting the Seminoles to offer online sports betting off tribal grounds is debatable. The Department of Interior’s stance on the current state of affairs is not. They have consistently sided with the Seminole Tribe. And more recently, they have taken that support to a whole new level.

Department of Interior Calls Florida Sports Betting Appeal ‘Unwarranted’

Though the United States Court of Appeals decided this past summer to uphold The Sunshine State’s previously overturned gaming compact with the Seminoles, the plaintiffs have since appealed that Florida sports betting decision. Officially, this move is called a “petition for a rehearing.” If successful, it would put legal Florida sports betting on hold yet again as the courts re-deliberated on the issue. 

For what it’s worth, most experts and industry stakeholders don’t expect West Flagler Associates, the plaintiffs in this case, to be successful with their appeal. Then again, few actually believed Florida sports gambling would be repealed in 2021. There’s always a chance. 

As things currently stand, West Flagler Associates has already completed their initial appeal process. We are now waiting on the Seminole tribe’s response and, ultimately, a verdict on the matter. And for their part, the Department of Interior believes this is all a giant waste of time. They provided a lengthy response to West Flagler Associates’ petition for a rehearing, wherein they extensively criticized the plaintiffs and effectively called their claims baseless. Here’s iGaming’s Zak Thomas Akoo with further details: 

“In a 25-page response, the DOI criticized the en-banc hearing request by two Florida pari-mutuel betting operators, after the businesses lost their case in the DC Circuit Court challenging the Seminole Tribe’s compact with the state of Florida. The department pushed back against the ‘erroneous assertions’ of the pari-mutuels. It argued the compact does not legalize the placing of bets. As evidence, it highlighted that the court’s decision does not prevent the plaintiffs from challenging the compact in the state courts. A ‘rehearing is unwarranted,’ concluded the DOI. 

Successful en-banc petitions are rare in the DC Circuit, with only a small number of successful cases in recent years. If it fails, litigators will have the option of trying in the state courts or appealing up to the US Supreme Court. The DOI emphasized this, pointing to case law saying courts should grant such petitions ‘only in the rarest of circumstances. This case does not present that rare circumstance,’ said the DOI.”

Timing has Become an Issue in the Battle for Florida Sports Gambling 

If you’re detecting a hint of forceful urgency in the Department of Interior’s response to the appeal, that’s because you’re supposed to. The Seminoles and the state understand that betting on the 2023 NFL and college football seasons are in full swing, and the hope, originally, was that Florida sports gambling could be back up by then. 

Clearly, that’s not going to happen. Week 1 of the NFL season kicks off on Thursday, September 7. The college football regular season, meanwhile, is already underway. It behooves the state and Seminoles to get a quick resolution, so that the latter can try to relaunch sports betting services in time to capitalize on the calendar’s most popular time to place wagers.

Here’s the thing: Even if, as expected, the Florida sports betting appeal fails, West Flagler Associate can still try petitioning the United States Supreme Court to hear that case. And most industry outlets are predicting they’ll do just that. Many even believe that’s always been their endgame, and that they filed the circuit court appeal to buy themselves enough time to build a stronger argument and proposal to the Supreme Court.

The Florida Sports Betting Stakes Have Never Been Higher

All in all, there’s still no telling when—or how—the battle over Florida sports gambling will end. At this point, that’s more of a nuisance to the Seminole tribe and The Sunshine State’s revenue more than anything else.

With football season kicking off, all the best online sportsbooks in the United States are aggressively building up their clientele with promotions and by just generally capitalizing on one of the busiest periods on the North American sports calendar. Florida is once again sitting out this process. Every week of regular season football that goes by likely represents millions of dollars in potential bets. 

This current delay is even more frustrating, financially, when considering the in-state landscape. Florida has one college football team that ranks in the AP’s top 25 (Florida State) and a handful of other programs in neighboring regions that would appeal to their sports betting base (Georgia, Clemson, etc.) Meanwhile, in the NFL, the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars are both considered sleeper contenders in the AFC. The start of football is always a hectic time in the sports wagering industry. For Florida, though, this year could be more lucrative than normal. And yet, for the time being, there’s nothing they can do about it.

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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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