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Supreme Court orders Florida to end sports betting

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Before a formal review of the case, two parimutuel bettors, West Flagler Associates, and Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation have asked the US Supreme Court not to allow the Seminole Tribe to launch sports betting in Florida.

West Flagler has filed a filing in order to reverse the DC Circuit motion to stay. This is called a “writ certiorari” – a legal term used to describe a request to review the matter. Florida will not be able to launch sports betting until this case has been resolved.

This operator has committed to submitting this in 45 days. The petition was dated on 6 October. This means that West Flagler’s deadline for submitting its case to the court is 20 November.

Jeff Ifrah, managing partner at Ifrah law, told iGB that it is difficult to get a stay of proceedings from the SCOTUS, regardless of how compelling facts are. If the request is refused, the fight may be moved to Florida.

West Flagler has filed a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. This case is about whether DeSantis exceeded his powers when he approved the compact because of a state constitution amendment that prohibits an expansion in casino gambling without voter approval through a referendum.

This petition represents the latest in the West Flagler Case, where the operator has tried to use courts to prevent the Seminoles launching sports wagering statewide via its tribal compact agreement with Florida.

In 2021 the Seminoles were granted the right to exclusively offer sports wagering in Florida. This is done by routing wagers from outside tribal lands through the servers of the tribe, also known as the “hub-and spoke” model.

Where we came from

Florida’s Compact with Seminoles, which was first agreed upon in 2004, has been vigorously challenged by the courts.

West Flagler brought its first lawsuit in this case to the US District Court of Columbia on September 20, 2021. It argued that the mobile element of the compact authorized gaming on federal land, which violated the state constitution as well as multiple federal laws.

The judge Dabney Frederick agreed with West Flagler, ruling that “sports betting is allowed on Indian land and also off Indian land”.

The Seminoles won on appeal when three judges of the DC Circuit Court confirmed that the Compact was valid despite federal objections.

West Flagler asked for a hearing en banc, which would have involved all of the judges. However, DC Circuit denied this request.

The Florida parimutuels then filed a request for the Supreme Court to hear the case and continue the stay against the Seminoles’ launching of sports betting. This motion was denied.

3 questions with exceptional importance

West Flagler said that the DC Circuit decision raises three questions of “exceptional importance”. The DC Circuit’s decision raises three “questions of exceptional importance” according to West Flagler.

The following are examples:

  • The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows the federal government the authority to approve a gaming compact that permits a tribe conduct gambling activities outside Indian land.
  • If an Indian tribe is using the Internet to provide gambling services outside its lands, does this violate the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act?
  • Whether a federal approval of a IGRA Compact in which a State gives an Indian Tribe a statewide monopoly of online sports betting violates the Equal Protection Clause.

Does the IGRA allow the federal government approval of the case?

West Flagler cited the Bay Mills Indian Community v. Michigan case from 2014. The court opinion quoted in the article stated that, “Everything – literally everything – within IGRA provides tools… for regulated gaming only on Indian lands and nowhere else”.

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this argument in its ruling from June. The opinion states that it “deems mobile wagers as being placed on Indian Land”. The compact does not, therefore, violate previous case law.

West Flagler claimed that the ruling was inconsistent with other decisions.

The operator said that there is a high probability this court will reverse its circuit opinion and grant certiorari on the IGRA issue.

Does this compact violate UIGEA law?

West Flagler cited a court ruling from the Ninth Circuit, California v. Iipay Nation Santa Ysabel to support its request.

The State of California, and the US, were successful in preventing Iipay Nation to operate an online bingo casino by citing UIGEA.

West Flagler said that “Iipay Nation’s position was clear.” He argued this is a good reason for the SCOTUS case to be taken up.

According to the DC Circuit, West Flagler’s UIGEA claim was purely hypothetical as the compact couldn’t facilitate a violation.

Does the Seminoles monopoly violate the Equal Protection clause?

West Flagler stated in the document that there is no precedent for “giving an Indian tribe such an egregious preference”, not related to their sovereign status, tribal lands, or culture.

West Flagler, however, said that the case closest to his was Williams v. Babbitt in which the Ninth Circuit overturned the rule prohibiting non-natives working in Alaska’s reindeer industries because the industry “was not uniquely indigenous”.

The DC Circuit initially rejected West Flagler’s argument under the fifth amendment, saying that “promoting economic development for federally recognized tribal nations” is constitutional.

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