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The US Department of Interior (DOI) took a rare step this week when they publicly rebuked a Florida sports betting case. The federal agency asked an appellate court to reject a request from West Flagler Associates (WFA) to review their case. WFA has been in a legal battle over sports betting rights in the state, which has put the industry on pause. They lost another appeal over the summer but recently filed an en banc petition, which would lead to a review by all 11 members of the circuit court.
West Flagler represents two pari-mutuel brick-and-mortar businesses that want to offer sports betting. They believe that Florida created a monopoly by handing the sole rights to operate the industry to the Seminole Tribe. WFA also maintains that the state misinterpreted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRC) in doing so.
While the judge reviewing the petition had requested a statement from both parties, the DOI took the unusual step of submitting their own opinion. In that statement, the federal agency claims that West Flagler is using a “strawman” argument to keep the case in federal court. The agency approved Florida’s gaming compact in 2021, which has been central to this legal battle.
“[The arguments] are strawmen, premised on its erroneous assertion that, by referencing the state-sanctioned wagers, the [gaming] compact — and the Secretary’s approval thereof — purport to unilaterally legalize the placement of those wagers and the state regime for regulating them.” The DOI said in their statement to the court, “[The appellate court] correctly held that the Secretary had no duty to disapprove the compact for the straightforward and fact-specific reason that the compact can, and therefore must, be read in a way that is consistent with IGRA.”
While the ruling on the en banc hearing may not officially end the legal challenge, it will make it nearly impossible for West Flagler to win. It will also signal to other states (and Tribes) that this type of gaming compact can achieve federal approval. That will immediately affect the state of Washington, which is dealing with a similar legal challenge.
Aside from the national impact, the ruling could affect whether sports betting can go live in Florida in time for the NFL season. That is the busiest time for sportsbooks across the country, and it has led to massive tax revenue for states. Florida is expected to rival New York as the top sports betting market, meaning the revenue they would miss would total in the tens of millions.
Michael is an avid sports fan and a veteran bettor from Milwaukee. He learned the trade from his grandfather in Las Vegas as a kid and has turned that into a successful career. He cheers for all Wisconsin pro teams along with his Alma Mater Arizona State. He specializes in baseball betting, but has experience in football, basketball, and hockey as well. When he isn’t pouring over stats, he’s spending time with his two young children.More info on Michael Savio
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