Oct 27, 2023 - News

Florida sports betting saga not over, despite court win

Animated illustration of a sports betting app on a phone starting to shake, and a delete button popping up in the top right corner.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Seminole Tribe of Florida got a win this week in its two-year legal battle to launch online sports betting in the state, but an expert says the state's gamblers shouldn't expect to place a wager anytime soon.

Driving the news: The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the tribe on Wednesday by rejecting a petition filed by two casino operators who sought to overturn a 2021 state gambling compact that gave the Seminoles exclusive authority over sports betting in Florida.

  • West Flagler Associates, owners of Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room, asked the high court to pause an unfavorable appellate court ruling until West Flagler formally brings its case to the Supreme Court. (The Florida Supreme Court is also considering a state challenge.)

Why it matters: Commercial sports betting — legal in more than 30 states — was responsible for $7.5 billion in total revenue nationwide last year.

Details: The federal lawsuit centers on whether the state gambling compact violates federal law by offering online sports betting outside of tribal lands, Nova Southeastern University law professor Bob Jarvis tells Axios.

  • Jarvis says the state lawsuit hinges on a 2018 Florida constitutional amendment giving voters exclusive authority over expanding casino gambling in the state, with exceptions for tribal compacts.

The intrigue: It's unclear when the Seminole Tribe will relaunch its online sports betting operation, which it briefly debuted in 2021 before shutting it down amid the legal challenge.

  • Florida gamblers have been waiting nearly two years to bet on their favorite sports teams — and they might need to keep waiting.

What they're saying: Seminole Tribe spokesperson Gary Bitner told Politico that the Supreme Court denial "is very good news."

  • "The Seminole Tribe of Florida is heartened by this decision."

Between the lines: Jarvis tells Axios that he doesn't believe the latest court decision will lead the Seminole Tribe to relaunch its sportsbook.

  • With more litigation ahead, the tribe likely wants to avoid upsetting judges, not to mention the employees and customers who would be impacted by another start-and-stop incident, he says.

What's next: Jarvis says the court battle might not be resolved until 2025 at the earliest, though he feels confident that the Seminoles will ultimately win and bring sports betting back to Florida.

  • "It's like waiting for Santa Claus," he says. "You know he is going to show up; you just don't know when he is going to show up."
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