Anti-gambling group asks Florida Supreme Court to allow challenge to Seminole sports betting deal

by | Oct 6, 2023

  • No Casinos, Inc., the group behind a 2018 ballot measure opposing gambling expansion, seeks to support a legal challenge against a deal granting the Seminole Tribe control over sports betting in Florida.
  • Two pari-mutuel companies, West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., filed a lawsuit claiming the sports-betting plan violates a 2018 constitutional amendment, Amendment 3, that gave voters exclusive authority over casino gambling decisions.
  • The 2021 compact between Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Seminole Tribe, and state lawmakers allowed the tribe to offer sports betting, craps, and roulette while pledging substantial payments to the state, but legal disputes have put sports betting on hold.

A group that spearheaded a 2018 ballot measure to make it harder to expand gambling hopes to help sway the Florida Supreme Court to reject a deal that would give the Seminole Tribe control over sports betting throughout the state.

The group No Casinos, Inc., asked the Supreme Court on Thursday for permission to file a brief backing a legal challenge that two pari-mutuel companies filed against the sports-betting plan.

No Casinos authored and supported a 2018 constitutional amendment that said voters “shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling” in the state, according to the group’s motion to file a friend-of-the-court brief.

The pari-mutuel companies West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., allege in a lawsuit filed last month at the Supreme Court that the sports-betting plan violates the constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 3.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola, Jr. signed the deal, known as a compact, in 2021 and state lawmakers ratified it.

A “hub-and-spoke” plan in the agreement allowed the Seminoles to accept sports wagers from mobile devices anywhere in the state, with the bets run through servers on tribal land. The deal said bets “using a mobile app or other electronic device, shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the tribe.”

In Thursday’s motion, No Casinos pointed to longstanding concerns that Florida “not be overrun with gambling, forever changing the appearance, attitude, and atmosphere of Florida, such that gambling becomes as pervasive as palm trees.”

“Sports betting that would take ‘Indian gaming’ off the reservation and into everyone’s hand-held device cannot be squared with the will of the people who voted for Amendment 3, and No Casinos, Inc., would assist the (Supreme) Court in seeing how those policy concerns undergird and support the legal arguments, as set forth in the petition (filed by the pari-mutuel companies),” the motion said.

The constitutional amendment, approved by 71 percent of voters, applies to types of gambling found in casinos and to types of gambling that are considered Class III under federal law. But it also included an exception for gambling that takes place on tribal lands.

The amendment said “nothing herein shall be construed to limit the ability of the state or Native American tribes to negotiate gaming compacts pursuant to the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act for the conduct of casino gambling on tribal lands, or to affect any existing gambling on tribal lands pursuant to compacts executed by the state and Native American tribes pursuant to IGRA.” The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, or IGRA, plays a key role in tribal gambling issues across the country.

Somewhat ironically, the Seminole Tribe contributed more than $24 million to Voters in Charge, a political committee created to help pass the amendment, according to finance records. The committee was chaired by John Sowinski, the longtime leader of No Casinos.

West Flagler Associates holds three jai alai licenses, while Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. does business as Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida. They have argued their businesses would be hurt by the sports-betting plan.

The pari-mutuel companies filed the case at the Florida Supreme Court after a federal appeals court rejected a separate challenge based on alleged violations of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The companies have indicated they could take the federal case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 2021 compact included the sports-betting plan, along with allowing the tribe to offer craps and roulette at its casinos and add three casinos on tribal property in Broward County. In exchange, the tribe pledged to pay the state a minimum of $2.5 billion over the first five years and possibly billions of dollars more throughout the three-decade pact.

The Seminoles briefly rolled out the Hard Rock SportsBook mobile app in 2021 but stopped accepting wagers and deposits on the app after a federal district judge ruled against the compact. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed that ruling this year, but sports betting has remained on hold.


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