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Court lets Florida tribe continue with online sports betting

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to block a ruling by a federal appeals court that would allow a Native American tribe in Florida to take online sports bets. In a brief unsigned order, the justices turned down a request by two casinos located in Florida to put a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on hold while the casinos seek Supreme Court review.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh penned a statement regarding the court’s denial of the casinos’ request. Kavanaugh agreed with the decision not to put the D.C. Circuit’s decision on hold, but he emphasized that the effect of the court’s order was limited.

The federal law at the center of the dispute is the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act, which was enacted in 1988 to create a framework for gambling on tribal lands. Under IGRA, when tribes want to offer casino games and sports betting, they must enter into an agreement, known as a compact, with the state where they are located. The federal Secretary of the Interior must then approve the compact; if she does not act on it within 45 days, it is considered to be approved.

In 2021, Florida and the Seminole Tribe agreed on a compact that would allow the tribe to operate online sports betting for anyone located in Florida – not just on tribal lands. Deb Haaland, the Secretary of the Interior in the Biden administration, did not act on the compact, so it went into effect in August 2021.

A few days later, two brick-and-mortar casinos near the casinos run by the tribe went to federal court, challenging Haaland’s decision to approve the compact. The casinos argued that, under IGRA, compacts can only authorize gaming on tribal lands. They also contended that the compact violates federal laws by permitting online sports betting, and that it violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment by allowing the tribe to offer online sports betting when others could face criminal liability for doing so.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich granted the casinos’ request to set aside Haaland’s approval of the compact. She reasoned that Haaland should have rejected the compact because it violated IGRA by allowing sports betting from locations that are not “Indian lands.”

In an opinion on June 30, the D.C. Circuit reversed Friedrich’s decision and reinstated the compact. It explained that although IGRA only permits compacts to authorize gaming on tribal lands, it doesn’t bar compacts from addressing other issues, including gaming outside tribal lands. “Whether it is otherwise lawful for a patron to place bets from non-tribal land within Florida may be a subject for that State’s courts, but it is not” a question for the court of appeals, the three-judge panel concluded.

The casinos came to the Supreme Court on Oct. 6, asking the justices to put the D.C. Circuit’s ruling on hold. They told the justices that unless they intervened, there would be “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of sports betting transactions that violate both state and federal law before this Court has the opportunity to address the merits” of the case.

But U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, representing Haaland, stressed that the D.C. Circuit had held only that the compact gave the tribe the authority to operate sports betting on tribal lands; it did not (as the casinos themselves acknowledge in a filing with the Florida Supreme Court) hold that the compact authorized gaming elsewhere in the state. And the casinos cannot credibly claim that they will be harmed if the Supreme Court does not step in now, Prelogar added, when they waited two years before going to state court.

In a brief, unsigned order on Wednesday afternoon, the justices rejected the casinos’ request to put the D.C. Circuit’s ruling on hold. There were no public dissents recorded.

In a two-paragraph statement, Kavanaugh agreed that the casinos’ request should be denied because, as the D.C. Circuit’s opinion makes clear, the compact only authorizes gambling on tribal lands. If the compact authorized gambling elsewhere in the state, he continued, it “would likely violate” IGRA. And if a state law allows the tribe to conduct gambling outside of tribal lands, Kavanaugh added, while prohibiting others from doing the same, it would pose “serious” constitutional questions in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions on the use of race in college admissions. But the constitutionality of that state law is not before the justices, Kavanaugh concluded, and the Florida Supreme Court is currently considering issues relating to the law.

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Court lets Florida tribe continue with online sports betting, SCOTUSblog (Oct. 25, 2023, 6:19 PM),