U.S. Court of Appeals Reaches Florida Sports Betting Decision

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Sep 13, 2023 12:00 AM
The U.S. Court of Appeals has sided with the Seminole Tribe in the Florida sports betting case.

Well, it’s official: The Seminole Tribe has won the Florida sports betting battle. For now, anyway.

On Monday, September 11, a panel of judges ruled against the petition for a rehearing filed by the plaintiffs in this case, West Flagler Associates. This decision, while monumental, was not unexpected. Regardless, it theoretically frees up the Seminole Tribe to relaunch sports betting in Florida.

But will they actually resume their sports gambling services? Or is there another batch of twists and turns this saga must now navigate? And are there any details from this latest decision we need to know?

Let’s dive into the latest Florida sports betting news.

How Did Florida Sports Betting End Up Here?

It is best to begin with a timeline of the Florida sports betting battle. The state initially agreed to a multi-billion gaming compact with the Seminoles that granted them gaming exclusivity throughout the state. The tribe proceeded to launch their sports betting services in late 2021

As part of the agreement, the Seminoles were only allowed to offer gambling on tribal property. However, they rolled out a mobile sports betting application in partnership with the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. They argued that their online sports betting app was an extension of tribal property. West Flagler Associates, a casino operator in Florida, disagreed. They believed that the Seminoles violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act by offering mobile services. A District Court judge sided with their argument, and before the end of 2021, sports betting throughout Florida was repealed.

The issue has been tied up in litigation ever since. Recently, though, the United States Court of Appeals upheld the gaming compact. That decision was contested by the plaintiffs. They responded with a petition for a rehearing. That brings us to the present day, and the latest decision. As NBC 6 in South Florida relayed, the U.S. Court of Appeals once again sided with the Seminoles’ gaming compact

“Dealing another victory to the Seminole Tribe of Florida, a federal appeals court has denied a request from pari-mutuel owners for a rehearing after a ruling that upheld a multibillion-dollar deal giving the tribe control over sports betting throughout the state. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in June reversed a November 2021 decision by a federal judge who halted the gambling agreement.Owners of Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida, who challenged the sports-betting plan, asked the full appeals court for a rehearing, what is known as seeking an "en banc" hearing. But the court rejected the request Monday without a detailed explanation.”

The absence of a detailed explanation in telltale. It suggests that the deliberation wasn’t particularly controversial, and that the casino operators contesting the decision didn’t have a leg to stand on. Of course, the court might release more details over the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, there’s a bigger question at hand…

Will The Seminole Tribe Resume Sports Gambling Services in Florida?

As many experts have outlined in the wake of the decision, the Seminoles could relaunch sports betting throughout the state over the next week or so. That is technically their right, and they clearly have the infrastructure in place to immediately resume their offerings.

Many nevertheless expect the Seminoles to wait it out. West Flagler Associates still has the option of bringing this issue to the United States Supreme Court. And while the Department of Interior supports the Seminoles’ right to offer Florida sports betting, relaunching their services could send the wrong message to decision-makers if this case winds up getting put back under the microscope.  

This, in turn, raises another critical question:

Will the Florida sports betting case ultimately be heard by the Supreme Court? Or does the deliberation end here?

Gambling Attorney Believes Florida Sports Betting Case Meets United States Supreme Court Criteria

Daniel Wallach, a gaming attorney who has regularly weighed in on this matter, thinks this case as a legitimate chance of making it to the United States Supreme Court. As he told NBC 6 in South Florida: 

“[Wallach] said the ruling in the Florida compact challenge ‘checks at least three of the boxes indicative’ of a Supreme Court review. The decision is ‘in conflict’ with rulings from other federal appellate courts, is ‘arguably in conflict with the Supreme Court’s own precedent,’ and it involves an ‘important question of federal law that has not been, but should be settled,’ by the Supreme Court. The ruling in the Florida case ‘is in conflict with at least eight federal appeals court decisions from other circuits declaring that’ the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act ‘has no application to off-reservation tribal gaming activities.’”

Given how much of the criteria this case meets for a Supreme Court review, there’s a strong possibility the Seminole Tribe sits tight until the next decision. Relaunching their sports betting services will be a lot easier if West Flagler Associates opts against pursuing further review. The Supreme Court could also simply side with the Seminoles’ gaming compact, just like the Federal Court of Appeals. 

Granted, there is value in immediately resuming sports betting offerings. The 2023 NFL season is in full swing. And the best online sportsbooks in the United States are already reporting record gambling handles following Week 1 of the schedule. As home to multiple NFL teams, not to mention a handful of college football powerhouses, the Seminoles stand to rake in a great deal of money if they provide sports betting services to Floridians.

Still, the safer play remains waiting out any further litigation. This way, they’ll clear all potential hurdles and can resume their business without worrying about whether they’ll be forced to roll it back again. In the event the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs, the Seminoles and Florida sports betting in general will be back to square one. But that’s a possibility even if the tribe relaunches their on-site and mobile wagering services. 

Basically, despite this latest victory, the Seminoles remain in a tough spot. And by extension, so does the future of Florida sports betting. 

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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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