Florida Governor files last-minute response in long-running sports betting case
Ron DeSantis dismisses West Flagler Associates challenge as “unjustifiable” claiming that sports betting does not meet constitutional requirements for casino gambling
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has filed a strongly-worded rebuke to the West Flagler Associates’ petition to review a controversial sports betting compact in the Florida Supreme Court.
DeSantis and his legal team, which includes Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, had until December 1 to file a response to the initial petition, which was presented in September.
The 65-page response was sent to the Florida Supreme Court at 11:22pm, with just 48 minutes to spare before the month-long extension, which DeSantis and his team argued for in October, expired.
West Flagler Associates and the Bonita Fort Myers Corporation, the other Florida parimutuel operator petitioning in the case, are attempting to have the 30-year gaming compact between the State of Florida and The Seminole Tribe, approved in May 2021, invalidated on constitutional grounds.
Central to this is a petition of writ of quo warranto, which is currently under consideration and would, if granted, see the decision-making process surrounding the compact examined by the Florida Supreme Court.
West Flagler Associates has also undertaken similar actions in the US Supreme Court, where a stay on a DC Court ruling allowing the Seminole Tribe to operate sports betting was denied in October. The parimutuel is expected to return with a filing of writ quo warranto there by the end of this year or going into 2024.
“Petitioners’ delay in filing this action—two-and-a-half years from the compact taking effect—is unjustifiable,” DeSantis and his legal team wrote in their response to the Florida Supreme Court petition.
The response went on to suggest that the long delay negated any potential claim which West Flagler Associates may have had for extraordinary relief, something which forms the central point of the Florida parimutuel operators’ petition.
“Moreover, the Seminole Tribe, because of its sovereign immunity, cannot be joined to this action,” the response continues.
“Yet as an equal partner to the compact, and the main beneficiary of the online sports betting provisions that petitioners challenge here, it is an indispensable party. Equity and good conscience therefore bar invalidating the compact in this proceeding,” it adds.
In addition, the response asserts that West Flagler Associates cannot make a petition of writ quo warranto, and that such a petition can only be made by the Florida Attorney General, so therefore the Florida Supreme Court should deny any petition on that basis.
Finally, DeSantis’ response suggests that sports betting does not meet the technical definition of “casino gambling” as envisioned in the Florida Constitution as it is not typically found in casinos, and therefore a statewide referenda on the issue is inapplicable.
“Either way, the compact and its implementing legislation are squarely within Section 30’s IGRA [Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] exception,” the response states.
“The DC Circuit has now rejected petitioners’ argument that the compact is unlawful under IGRA because it allows the Tribe to offer online sports betting, and the implementing legislation simply executes that lawful compact.
The response continues: “Petitioners are incorrect that the IGRA compact exception in Section 30 is limited to compacts narrower than what IGRA itself contemplates and permits—compacts addressing only gaming exclusively occurring on tribal lands.
“In any event, the legislature validly deemed an online sports betting transaction to occur on tribal lands where wagers are accepted. For all these reasons, the petition should be dismissed or denied,” it concludes.
In any event, the legal challenge by West Flagler Associates and Bonita Fort Myers has not stopped the relaunch of the Hard Rock Digital sportsbook, with the Seminole Gaming brand relaunching online on November 7.
The tribe is expected to relaunch its retail sportsbook on December 7 at a star-studded party at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood.