Supreme Court Declines To Hear Florida Sports Betting Case, Leaving Seminole Tribe Monopoly Intact

Erik Gibbs

us supreme court

The Supreme Court of the United States has shut the door on West Flagler Associates’ challenge to Florida’s online sports betting landscape.

In a decision announced Monday morning, the Court denied the petition for a writ of certiorari, effectively siding with the Department of the Interior and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. This decision leaves the tribe’s exclusive right to offer online sports betting in the Sunshine State uncontested, for now.

West Flagler Associates, a company with interests in the gambling industry, had argued that the 2021 compact between the Seminole Tribe and the State of Florida violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The compact allows the tribe to offer online sports betting throughout the state, even though the wagers are placed off tribal land. West Flagler contended that this structure skirted IGRA’s limitations on tribal gaming and gave the tribe an unfair advantage in the Florida market.

The Seminole Tribe, no doubt, views this decision as a victory. The tribe’s Hard Rock Digital platform has been the only regulated option in the Florida sports betting market. It launched in late 2021, went offline a couple of months later in the face of the challenges to its legality, and relaunched last November. The exclusivity granted by the compact has allowed the tribe to build a strong customer base and generate significant revenue.

West Flagler Associates, on the other hand, is left without an immediate legal recourse. While it could pursue alternative legal avenues, the path forward seems uncertain at best.

Division in the Court

Justice Brett Kavanaugh dissented from the majority decision, and the full reasoning behind his dissent remains unknown. He had previously expressed his willingness to grant the writ of certiorari. Kavanaugh’s stance highlighted concerns regarding the equal protection implications of a state law that seemingly granted exclusive rights to the Seminole Tribe for off-reservation gaming operations.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson didn’t participate in the discussion or the ruling.

The case had been closely watched by the gambling industry and legal experts. A favorable ruling for West Flagler could have significantly impacted the future of online sports betting in Florida, potentially opening the door for commercial operators to compete with the Seminole Tribe. However, the Supreme Court’s decision to decline the case allows the current system to remain in place.

Empowering tribal gaming

Looking ahead, the Supreme Court’s decision could have a ripple effect across the U.S. With Florida’s system seemingly endorsed, other state tribes with existing gaming compacts may now explore similar avenues to legalize online sports betting within their states. This could lead to a patchwork of regulations across the country, with some states offering online sports betting through tribal partnerships and others pursuing a more commercialized approach.

Moreover, the ruling could prompt a reexamination of IGRA itself, a law enacted in 1988 that has not been substantially updated to reflect the digital age of gaming. Questions about the adequacy of existing legal frameworks to address contemporary issues in tribal gaming are likely to surface, possibly leading to legislative reforms.

However, the legal landscape remains complex. While the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case is a significant development, it doesn’t necessarily set a binding precedent for future challenges. Additionally, potential federal legislation aimed at regulating sports betting nationwide could still supersede state-tribal compacts.

The Supreme Court’s decision may have solidified the Seminole Tribe’s dominance for now in Florida’s online sports betting market, but it leaves several questions unanswered. The future of online sports betting in the U.S. is likely to continue evolving, with this recent development serving as just one chapter in a complex and ongoing saga.