Interior Department Asks Supreme Court to Dismiss Florida Gaming Compact Case

The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) has petitioned the Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Class III gaming compact the Seminole Tribe reached with Florida in 2021.

Supreme Court Florida Seminole compact sports betting
Hard Rock Bet commercials continue to run in Florida and online sports bets continue to be facilitated as a legal challenge that’s reached the US Supreme Court plays out. Attorneys with the federal government this week requested that SCOTUS dismiss the legal challenge of the Seminole Tribe’s 2021 gaming compact. (Image: Hard Rock Bet)

After being granted additional time to file its brief in the lawsuit West Flagler Associates, Ltd., et al v. Debra Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, et al, attorneys with the federal agency that administers programs related to Native Americans requested that the case be thrown out.

West Flagler and its co-plaintiff, Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation, own and operate the Bonita Springs Poker Room. The plaintiffs allege Florida’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe that included online sports betting violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), a federal law that allows tribes to operate Class I and II gaming on their native lands and Class III gaming through compacts reached with their host state governments.

DOI Seeks Dismissal

West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers allege the 2021 compact violates IGRA because it allows the tribe to conduct gambling operations outside of its sovereign property. Since the tribe’s sportsbook platform takes bets remotely from anyone aged 21 and older physically located inside the Sunshine State, the plaintiffs say the compact runs afoul of IGRA.  

The Seminoles and Florida government, though not party to the case before the Supreme Court, say it doesn’t because the online sportsbook servers remain on Seminole land. DOI attorneys agree.

[The] compact, as relevant here, addresses internet sports betting that the Tribe conducts by accepting wagers placed by patrons in Florida — including on non-Indian lands — and receiving those wagers at the Tribe’s computer servers located on Indian lands,” the DOI response read. “The court of appeals held that, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the compact, as approved by operation of law under IGRA, authorized only the relevant gaming activities that occur on Indian lands.”

DOI attorneys said Florida lawmakers amended the state’s gaming laws to permit online sports betting facilitated through computer servers located on tribal lands. They also added that federal appeals courts have ruled that IGRA regulates gaming on tribal land but “nowhere else,” meaning Florida has the power to allow people to transmit their sports bets remotely to the Seminole’s sportsbook servers on their tribal land.

“The court of appeals further determined that IGRA does not prohibit a gaming compact, which is, at bottom, an agreement between a tribe and a state, from discussing other topics, including those governing activities ‘outside Indian lands,’” the filing continued.

Critical Decision

The Supreme Court’s decision on the Florida gaming compact will have far-reaching implications, including possibly paving the way for federally recognized tribes to initiate online gaming activities. Interior attorneys, however, say that isn’t necessarily the case, as states would need to pass laws to allow for the remote transmission of gaming as Florida did with online sports wagering.

Let us be clear: an IGRA compact cannot provide independent legal authority for gaming activity that occurs outside of Indian lands, where that activity would otherwise violate state law,” the brief claimed. “States have ‘capacious’ authority to regulate tribal gaming outside Indian territory.”

SCOTUS is expected to decide in the coming months whether it will accept the case. In the meantime, online sports betting in Florida continues through the Hard Rock Bet app and website.

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