Two Florida gambling companies, West Flagler Associates and the Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation, are calling upon the US Supreme Court in a bid to halt the Seminole Tribe’s burgeoning monopoly on sports betting within the Sunshine State. These firms, responsible for the operation of the Bonita Springs Poker Room in the southern part of the state, have initiated a multi-year battle aimed at undoing a gaming contract between the tribe and the state itself.
This contract, ceremoniously ushered into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in 2021, allocated exclusive sportsbook operation rights to the Seminole Tribe. Both its land-based operations and its Hard Rock Bet mobile platform were included in this deal. Under this agreement, bets placed online via Hard Rock are considered to be conducted on Seminole land, given the servers’ location. However, West Flagler contends that this business model implicitly paves the way for “off-reservation” gaming, a practice expressly forbidden by federal standards.
The companies entreat the Supreme Court, suggesting that without intervention, the Compact could generate potentially millions of sports betting transactions that contravene both national and local legislation before the Court holds a chance to assess its merits. West Flagler conveyed this in its Supreme Court petition, instating that the public interest lies in the maintenance of the status quo regarding online gaming until the Court scrutinizes the request for a writ of certiorari.
The parent companies of Bonita Springs, which has been in direct competition with tribal gaming since 2009, argue they will be adversely affected by the Tribe’s broad online sports betting offerings within the state. Bonita Springs also provides pari-mutuel betting on horse racing and jai alai, alongside table games such as Ultimate Texas hold ‘em and three-card poker.
In accordance with federal laws, the Department of the Interior oversees tribal gaming as mandated in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Indigenous tribes have the right to operate Las Vegas-style casinos on tribal land if a gaming compact has been established with the respective state, a procedure the Seminole Tribe has employed for decades with their Hard Rock establishments across Florida.
These agreements must be officiated by the Interior Department, where approval is inferred following a 45-day period of inaction. They must satisfy the IGRA’s conditions for them to be enacted, as was the case with the Florida compact.
Three central conflicts are being raised by West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers in the Supreme Court, demanding thorough examination. It questions if the IGRA permits the secretary of the interior to approve compacts that allow a tribe to offer sports wagering statewide, thereby incorporating areas outside native lands. The motion also contends that the compact contravenes the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act due to Florida’s constitution prohibiting sports betting outside tribal lands.
Lastly, the companies are querying whether the compact’s sanctioning infringes the Constitution’s equal protection clause by authorizing the Seminole Tribe to offer statewide sports betting while concurrently criminalizing similar activities conducted by individuals of different ethnic or racial backgrounds.
Coinciding legal action sees West Flagler appealing to the Florida Supreme Court to nullify the contract signed by Governor DeSantis in 2021. A response from DeSantis is awaited by November 21st, according to recent court records. Support also arrives in the form of No Casinos, Inc., a Florida entity that has received permission to intervene in the case assisting West Flagler. This case provides one more instance of the ongoing struggle surrounding the regulation of sports betting and online gaming not only in Florida, but across the United States.