Early Tuesday morning, West Flagler Associates opened up a second front in their effort to stop the relaunch of Florida sports betting.
The South Florida gaming magnates filed a Petition for Writ of Quo Warranto at the Supreme Court of Florida. The petition argues that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis exceeded his authority by “granting the Tribe the exclusive right to offer off-reservation online and in-person sports betting throughout the entire state and by signing legislation ratifying the 2021 Compact and making such wagers legal statewide.”
The petition filed at the State’s Supreme Court comes as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals could rule at any time on whether to extend the freeze on regulated Florida sports betting, while West Flagler Associates files their petition to the Supreme Court. In practical terms, this is one more obstacle that the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and its Hard Rock Bet have in their way before relaunching the app is possible.
What is West Flagler arguing?
West Flagler is arguing that DeSantis and the legislature violated the Florida Constitution by approving the 2021 Compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The company argues that because of the 2018 constitutional amendment that requires gaming expansion to be approved by voters, any expansion that takes place outside of tribal lands requires the approval of 60% of voters.
The petition goes on to argue that not only has the governor exceeded his authority, but so too did the legislature by enacting the “Implementing Law,” which carved out the now-disputed conduct from Florida’s broad-based ban on sports wagering.
The petition states:
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 by Article X, Section 30. In so doing, the Respondents have exceeded their authority in direct violation of the Florida Constitution.
The petition again goes back to what has been a common theme for West Flagler’s lawyers: that the language about deeming bets to occur on tribal land is essentially an effort to evade restrictions on wagering taking place off Seminole land.
Monopoly on off-reservation Florida sports betting?
The key argument being put forth in the new petition is that the 2021 Compact is “a paradigm shift in Florida’s approach to tribal gaming,” and that the mobile provision of the compact is a gateway to the future offering of additional online gaming opportunities.
The filing states that:
Part IV, Section A attempts to create a legal fiction that “wagers on Sports Betting . . . made by players physically located within the State using a mobile or other electronic device shall be deemed to take place exclusively where received at the location of the servers or other devices used to conduct such wagering activity at a Facility on Indian Lands.”
The brief argues that the only justification for the “deeming” language is to avoid implicating Article X, Section 30(c) of the Florida Constitution, which requires casino expansion questions to go to the voters and be approved by a 60% majority.
What does West Flagler want?
West Flagler is seeking a declaration that the respondents (the Governor and leaders of the Florida legislature) exceeded their authority when “they permitted off-reservation, sports betting throughout the state.” Additionally, they are asking that a declaration specify that the only permissible means by which “off-reservation” sports wagering can exist in Florida is via a constitutional amendment.
Finally, they want a declaration that the highlighted portions of the Compact (e.g. the mobile Florida sports betting component) require voter approval in order for such a scheme to be permitted.
The petitioners also ask that:
the Court exercise its “All Writs” jurisdiction under Article V, Section 3(b)(7) of the Florida Constitution to suspend operation of the offending provisions of the Implementing Law pending a final decision of this Court in order to preserve the status quo.
What does this mean for Florida sports betting?
The short answer is that regulated Florida sports betting is likely on hold for even longer.
West Flagler Associates is now fighting two separate legal battles looking to stop the implementation of the 2021 Compact. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals could rule at any moment, which would set up a likely petition to the Supreme Court on the questions surrounding whether the Secretary of the Interior was obligated to reject the 2021 Compact.
The question that the Florida courts will answer is distinct, however, and centers on the compact’s ability to exist in light of the 2018 amendment to the Florida Constitution. While these two cases address different questions, West Flagler only needs success from one to put a stop to the lights being turned back on at Hard Rock Bet’s Florida operations center.
While responding parties typically have 20 days to respond, state entities have 40 days to file a response. This would set up a November date before the governor or legislative officials need to respond.