DC appeals court denies rehearing petition in Florida sports betting case
Appeals court issues one-line response to West Flagler rehearing case, setting up potential US Supreme Court push
The District of Columbia (DC) Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a motion by Florida-based parimutuel West Flagler to hold a rehearing of its legal case against the Seminole Tribe and the US Department of the Interior (DOI).
Eleven days after the DOI issued its own response to the West Flagler petition, the DC Court issued a one-sentence decision on the case.
“Upon consideration of appellees’ petition for rehearing en banc, the response thereto, and the absence of a request by any member of the court for a vote, it is ordered that the petition be denied,” read the court’s statement.
The initial case centred on whether the Seminole Tribe’s 30-year sports betting compact with the state of Florida was illegal because it breached the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).
Furthermore, West Flagler implicated the DOI as acting unlawfully in recognizing the compact. In November 2021, the Seminole Tribe was forced to shut down the Hard Rock Digital sportsbook in the state, pending an appeal.
A central part of this case centres on the so-called ‘hub and spoke’ model, which allows for the offering of sports betting in the Florida outside of tribal land.
Under the IGRA, while a state may enter a compact with any tribe to operate gambling, it must occur on Indian land, defined as “all lands within the limits of any Indian reservation” or lands held in trust by the US for the benefit of said tribe.
The ‘hub and spoke’ model allows the tribe to circumvent this law, as all sportsbook transactions, although placed remotely anywhere in the state, would still be funneled through servers located on Indian lands.
In June, the three-judge US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with the Seminole Tribe and the DOI, unanimously contending that the IGRA does not prevent the tribe from accepting bets remotely.
Although it asserted the rule of IGRA over gaming on Indian land, the panel asserted that IGRA did not directly prohibit a tribe from discussing and agreeing compacts to govern gaming off Indian lands, as officials in Florida had agreed with the Seminole Tribe in 2021.
West Flagler had sought a rehearing of the case for it be considered by the full bench of the DC Court, rather than just the three-court justices who sided with the Seminole Tribe and the DOI in June.
Rehearings in these cases are seldom granted, with the exception of cases with national significance.
The denial throws open the prospect of a final appeal by West Flagler and Associates to the US Supreme Court in possibly the biggest sports betting-related case to be considered at that level since the repeal of PASPA in May 2018.
Should the nine justices of the Supreme Court side with West Flagler, the decision could have significantly detrimental consequences for the expansion of tribal gaming operators online. Likewise should the reverse occur, this could open the door to greater expansion by operators online.
In the event that no appeal be launched, the Hard Rock Digital Sportsbook could effectively relaunch in the state from September 19.