US Supreme Court lifts stay on Seminole Gaming Compact, but…

by | Oct 26, 2023

  • The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed Florida’s gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe to proceed by lifting a stay on a lower court ruling.
  • However, Justice Brett Kavanaugh expressed concerns about the legality of the Tribe’s off-reservation gaming operations and raised questions about equal protection issues.
  • Legal challenges and appeals are expected to continue, but this decision breathes new life into the $2.5 billion gambling deal between Florida and the Seminole Tribe.

A new chapter has been written in the long-running legal drama over sports betting in Florida, but the book isn’t finished yet. Late Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a stay on a lower court ruling regarding the state’s gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe. Although the move allows the compact to proceed, Justice Brett Kavanaugh elaborated on his concerns over the legality of the Tribe’s off-reservation gaming operations.

The case, West Flagler Associates, Ltd. v. Debra Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, et al., saw the Supreme Court deny an application for a stay that had been presented by Chief Justice John Roberts. That order But in his statement announcing the denial, Justice Kavanaugh expressed doubts over the hub and spoke online sports betting model deemed legal in the compact.

“If the compact authorized the Tribe to conduct off-reservation gaming operations, either directly or by deeming off-reservation gaming operations to somehow be on-reservation,” Kavanaugh noted in the opinion, “then the compact would likely violate the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, as the District Court explained.”

The Justice also raised questions about the state law’s constitutionality in regard to equal protection issues.

This latest turn of events is not expected to bring a swift end to the ongoing legal saga. Two Florida casinos that challenged the gambling deal have stated their intention to pursue a full appeal before the high court. There is also a case pending before the Florida Supreme Court related to the Tribe’s potential off-reservation gaming operations.

Even so, the lifted stay breathes new life into the $2.5 billion gambling deal between Florida and the Seminole Tribe, orchestrated largely by Gov. Ron DeSantis and GOP legislative leaders in May 2021. The compact authorized the Tribe to offer sports betting and expand its current casino offerings, including the addition of craps and roulette. The Tribe had also been given the green light to build additional casinos on their Hollywood reservation, already home to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

However, the Seminole Tribe’s ability to offer betting throughout the state via a mobile app has been a significant point of contention and legal challenges, and was the primary driver behind getting the deal done. The issue has primarily revolved around whether the Tribe’s gaming operations – specifically sports betting through the use of an online app – extend beyond the boundaries of their reservations, potentially in violation of federal law. The initial lawsuit against the Department of the Interior aimed to halt the compact, alleging that the federal agency failed to block the agreement.

The compact had initially been struck down by a district judge but was later overturned by a panel of federal appeals court judges. The judges argued that any dispute over the compact should be settled in state court.

Gary Bitner, a spokesperson for the Tribe, welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, but the Tribe has proceeded with caution since the initial court rulings, despite many of them going in their favor. They disabled access to their sports betting app immediately after an adverse lower court ruling, and have not reactivated it despite several favorable rulings since.

A number of twists and turns still remain likely, including at the Florida Supreme Court, which is also currently considering related issues surrounding off-reservation gaming operations by the Tribe.


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