How Florida’s Supreme Court Case Could Reshape High-Stake Gambling

By  //  November 8, 2023

In October, the Supreme Court temporarily halted an appeals court ruling. It invalidated a $2.5 billion deal or compact between Governor Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. The ruling would have allowed the Seminole Tribe to offer sports betting throughout Florida.

The stay was granted after pari-mutuel companies West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp challenged and filed a lawsuit. An anti-lobbying group, No Casinos, also requested a motion to file a late amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court, supporting West Flagler. Let us dissect the dispute to understand how it can reshape high-stake gambling in Florida.

The Amicus Brief and the Heart of the Dispute

An Amicus brief also means friend of the court. It occurs when a person or organization outlines legal arguments in a case without being a party to the proceedings. The brief grants the court additional information, perspectives, or arguments that may influence the court’s final decision.

No Casinos asserted that the approval between Governor DeSantis and the Seminole tribe violated the Florida Constitution, especially Article X, Section 30, or Amendment 3. The Amendment banned the expansion of casino gambling without voters agreeing in a referendum. Meanwhile, No Casinos authored this amendment.

One central question was whether “casino Gambling,” as defined in the amendment, covered sports betting. According to No Casinos, it does; hence, expanding sports betting required voters’ approval, which they overlooked.

Direct Impact on High-Stakes Casino Players

Expanding sports betting through the Seminole tribe’s compact could affect the high-stakes betting landscape. First, if the court approves the expansion, it sets a precedent for high-stakes betting – some online casinos for high stakes include William Hill, 888, and Bet 365. A more favorable environment allows the industry to thrive, inviting more operators into the market. The regulatory framework makes betting more accessible to a wider audience, including high rollers. More opportunities for high-stake wagering will attract investments and businesses, widening the market and exposing casinos to more competition. 

On the downside, if the court fails to address cogent issues, the uncertainty may restrict potential operators or investors from entering the Florida betting markets. It will ultimately discourage high-stakes betting. It further influences high-stakes gamblers, who look for alternatives in friendly jurisdictions. Other operational limitations to expect include bet size restriction, limited wagering options, and more.

The Compact’s Controversy and Legal Intricacies

The State of Florida wanted to give the tribe worldwide control over sports betting, including outside Indian lands. So, venue expansion and a broader class of casino gambling opportunities. Florida’s Amendment 3, approved by voters, gave people a right to approve casino gambling expansion in Florida. The Federal law and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act authorize gambling on Indian lands alone.

No Casinos challenged the “hub and spoke” model, a legal argument the parties used to justify the compact. According to the parties, bets made off Indian servers are routed through tribal servers. In other words, betting on tribal lands and elsewhere outside the state still occurs on tribal lands at the end of the day. But No Casinos countered by stating that the argument was “transparently false and outcome-driven, which is disrespectful to the Florida Constitution.” No Casinos added that it disrespected the voters who spoke unequivocally for Amendment 3 in 2018.

DeSantis’s lawyers did not object to the amicus curiae brief submission. However, they requested an extension for all the parties directly involved in the case to prepare their arguments and responses. The court allowed the extension due to the case’s complexity and for a fair examination.

Broader Implications for Florida’s Gambling Landscape

The outcome of the legal battle has two significant implications for Florida’s gambling landscape:

  • If the court upholds Amendment 3 interpretation, voters must approve casino gambling expansion. It sets a precedent for future expansions of native Americans own casinos, including all types of casino games. Involving voters further exposes the gambling industry’s future developments to public scrutiny, leading to a more rigorous framework. 
  • If there is a ruling in the tribe’s favor, market competition in the gambling industry may intensify. New and established casino operators and sportsbooks will try to outperform each other by offering more options for high rollers. The end game is to attract lucrative gamblers. If the court imposes strict regulations, they tamper with market competition, limiting the options available to high rollers.

Thus, the verdict will determine the immediate changes in Florida’s gambling industry and also set the tone for how the industry grows in the future.

The Tribal Perspective and Sovereignty

The Seminole Tribe’s position is deeply rooted in their tribal sovereignty. Since the tribe governs itself, stakeholders decide what to do with their lands. The sovereign tribal nation argues that the compact is within their rights. Moreover, the “hub and spoke” model routes bets through tribal servers, which ensure betting activities are on tribal lands, so the tribe’s sovereignty is not absolute. 

In conclusion, the interplay between federal and state laws and the compact’s terms adds complexity. The legal outcome could redefine tribal sovereignty boundaries in the context of high-stakes betting.