Florida Supreme Court dismisses challenge against Seminole Gaming Compact

by | Mar 22, 2024

The Florida Supreme Court unanimously dismissed a challenge against a state compact with the Seminole Tribe, affirming mobile sports betting in Florida, ruling the plaintiffs’ legal approach inappropriate for contesting the compact’s constitutionality.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday denied a challenge against a state compact with the Seminole Tribe that allows for mobile sports betting.

The case, brought forth by parties including West Flagler Associates, parent company of Magic City Casino in Miami and the Bonita Springs Poker Room, argued that the compact’s provisions violated the Florida Constitution. Specifically, they contended that the expansion of casino gambling, including sports betting, should be decided by voter initiative rather than by state compacts or legislative action.

However, the court ruled unanimously that the legal method chosen by the petitioners, a writ of quo warranto, was not the appropriate avenue for challenging the law’s constitutionality. Quo warranto actions are typically used to address whether an individual has the authority to hold a particular public office or exercise certain powers, not to question the legality of enacted laws or state agreements.

“Framed as it is, the petition presents nothing other than a challenge to the substantive constitutionality of the law ratifying the compact,” the order reads. “But quo warranto is not, and has never been, the proper vehicle to obtain a declaration as to the substantive constitutionality of an enacted law. For that reason, we deny the petition because the relief that Petitioners seek is beyond what the writ of quo warranto provides.”

This decision effectively upholds the gaming compact that permits people in Florida to place sports bets via mobile devices, with all bets considered to be taking place on tribal lands.

“This is a major victory for the people of the State of Florida, who can count on billions of dollars over the coming years to fund important state needs,” Gary Bitner, a representative of the Seminole Tribe told The Capitolist. “Floridians and visitors can enjoy statewide sports betting and expanded casino games, now and into the future.  And it means the Seminole Tribe of Florida can have confidence in the future.”

In a prior petition filed with the state Supreme Court, the Plaintiffs argued that in 2018, Florida’s passage of Amendment 3 imposed constraints on the Legislature’s authority to expand casino gambling operations. With the Seminole Gaming Compact’s adoption, the casinos contended that the state bypassed the necessary constitutional amendment process, which demands the backing of at least 60 percent of the state’s voters.

“In 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 3 … Its purpose was to strictly limit the power of the legislature to expand casino gambling in Florida by mandating that the only means to do so is through a constitutional amendment authorizing such gambling,” read the petition. “The 2021 Compact and Implementing Law are a clear expansion of casino gambling in Florida without a voter-approved constitutional amendment by citizens’ initiative, as required [Florida’s Constitution]. In so doing, the [State] has exceeded [its] authority in direct violation of the Florida Constitution.”

The compact grants the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to sports betting throughout Florida through a “hub-and-spoke” system that allows the Seminole tribe to accept sports bets from mobile devices across the state, processing them through servers situated on tribal lands.

Pari-mutuel companies have also contested the compact at the federal level, alleging that it breaches the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which governs gambling on tribal lands. Last August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rebuffed a request to reassess the challenge.

In a separate case, an appeals court panel ruled in favor of the U.S. Department of the Interior, affirming the federal government’s adherence to regulations in approving the compact.

The ruling marked a reversal of the previous District Court decision, which nullified the Gaming Compact between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe. The prior decision argued that the compact contravened federal law and stated that the inclusion of a Seminole Tribe betting app, enabling bets to be placed from any location within the state, violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

Following ratification of the Gaming Compact, the Florida Seminole Tribe launched its Hard Rock Sportsbook app, allowing bettors to wager on game lines, spreads, futures, player props, and more. In December, the Tribe announced its plans to resume payments to Florida, committing to at least $650 million over the next year as part of the 30-year compact.


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