Legal Threat Looms for Seminoles’ Revamped Sports Betting App

Date: November 9, 2023, 04:15h.

Last updated on: November 9, 2023, 04:15h.

West Flagler Associates, the parimutuel operator battling the Seminole sports betting monopoly in Florida, has petitioned the State Supreme Court to pull the plug on the tribe’s mobile sportsbook.

Florida sports betting, West Flagler, Seminole tribe
The Seminole Tribe of Florida owns the Hard Rock casino brand, above. On Tuesday, it relaunched its controversial statewide sports betting app, which West Flagler argues is unconstitutional. (Image: Seminole Hard Rock Tampa)

The Seminoles relaunched the app earlier this week. That’s after the US Supreme Court denied a request by West Flagler’s lawyers to block the 2021 gaming compact that handed the sports betting monopoly to the tribe, along with roulette and craps.

West Flagler argues that the $2.5 billion gaming agreement violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). This requires that tribal gaming takes place on tribal land, but the Seminoles’ mobile app has statewide coverage. West Flagler also asserts the compact violates the equal protection clause of the US constitution.

Legal Wrangles

West Flagler owns the Bonita Springs Poker Room in southwest Florida and, until recently, the Magic City Casino in Miami.

It sued to have the compact voided in both the state and federal courts. But after two years of legal wrangles, a federal appellate panel sided with the Seminoles, determining in June 2023 that the issue would be better decided by the Florida Supreme Court.

Whether it is otherwise lawful for a patron to place bets from non-tribal land within Florida may be a question for that state’s courts, but it is not the subject of this litigation and not for us to decide,” federal appeals-court Judge Robert Wilkins wrote.

That state case is pending, and a ruling is expected sometime next year. But in this week’s filing, West Flagler complained the tribe will profit from the app in the interim.

“[The] tribe will apparently continue with its off-reservation sports betting operations in contravention of the Florida Constitution … potentially raking in millions of dollars in sports bets that this court may eventually find were authorized in contravention of the Florida Constitution and derogation of the people’s right to decide on the expansion of casino gambling,” West Flagler wrote in the filing.

Where Does an Online Bet Take Place?

The sports betting app went live on Tuesday, after a two-year hiatus, to a limited number of gamblers. Only those who signed up for the app prior to its suspension in November 2021 have access, along with existing members of the tribe’s land-based casino loyalty program.

The tribe and the State of Florida maintain that the app does not violate IGRA because its servers are based on tribal land, which is where the bets are processed – a broad reading of the statute.

This is also the state’s defense against West Flagler’s claim that the compact violates a 2018 amendment to the Florida constitution, which requires that all proposed casino gaming expansion in the state be put to a public vote. The state argues that this applies only to commercial sports betting outside of a tribal compact.

“The governor and legislature’s fiction does not change the reality that the governor and legislature are seeking to authorize gambling that takes place off Indian lands,” the lawsuit states.

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