In an interim order, the U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily stayed an order by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a gaming compact between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which would allow the tribe exclusive rights to offer sports betting in Florida.

Entered in April 2021 between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Council, the gaming compact in issue claims authorization under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Under the compact, online bets routed through on-reservation servers are deemed to have been placed on “Indian lands” as that term is defined under the IGRA, even if the bettor was physically elsewhere in Florida. Interior Secretary Deborah Haaland took no action on the pact, resulting in its approval under the IGRA in August 2021.

West Flagler Associates Ltd. and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., two Florida casino operators negatively affected by the pact, sued shortly afterward in federal district court in the District of Columbia. U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich entered summary judgment for the West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. in November 2021, concluding that the tribe’s compact violated the IGRA and vacated the agreement. In a decision entered in June, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (Henderson, Wilkins, and Childs, JJ.) reversed Judge Friedrich’s ruling and revived the compact.

The Florida casino operators intend to submit a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court in the matter and, in the interim, asked the Supreme Court to stay the D.C. Circuit’s order pending their appeal. The Supreme Court granted that stay in an order by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. that was entered on October 12, and further ordered a response to the appellants’ application for stay on behalf of Secretary Haaland by close of business on October 18. That response, authored by Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar, contends that the D.C. Circuit correctly decided the issue and that the application for stay should be denied.

Relatedly, West Flagler Associates Ltd. and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. also have an appeal pending before the Florida Supreme Court in which they argue that the tribal gaming compact exceeded the authority of Florida’s governor and legislature because it violates Article X, Section 30 of the Florida Constitution, which gives “Florida voters” the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in the State of Florida,” with casino gambling defined to include Class III gaming under the IGRA (which encompasses sports betting), except “on tribal lands.”

Why It Matters

The litigation over the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s gaming compact demonstrates the central role that state regulators play in today’s growing sports wagering marketplace.