In a recent turn of events, the U.S. Supreme Court gave a nod to the long-debated Florida sports betting plan. The decision declared on Wednesday, October 25, marked a milestone for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. This also shows the possibility of online sports betting spreading across the state. The Supreme Court lifted a temporary hold on the sports betting plan imposed by Chief Justice John Roberts on a ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia earlier this month. It all began with the legal clashes surrounding a gambling deal between the Seminole Tribe and the state in 2021. 

The compact which forms the crux of this dispute encompasses several elements. One of the elements is the contentious provision allowing the tribe to extend online sports betting. This particular aspect was opposed by the Florida pari-mutuel companies, triggering a series of legal disputes. As per the court docket, the Supreme Court has now vacated the order imposed by Chief Justice Roberts on the ruling, denying the requested stay. 

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, Gary Bitner, a spokesperson for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, stated, “The denial of the stay by the U.S. Supreme Court is very good news. The Seminole Tribe of Florida is heartened by this decision.” 

However, the implementation of the sports betting plan continues to face hurdles, with West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., two prominent pari-mutuel entities, engaged in legal pursuit. These companies have filed a lawsuit at the Florida Supreme Court stating that the proposed sports betting scheme breaches a 2018 state constitutional amendment that mandated voter approval for casino gambling. Despite the recent declaration of the Supreme Court, this case remains pending, adding to the complexity of the long-winded legal landscape. 

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At the core of this controversy lies the interpretation of the compact with the contested provision, allowing gamblers to place mobile sports wagers anywhere in the state. The bets are supposed to be handled by computer servers located on tribal property. The pari-mutuel companies argue that this is a breach of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) as it authorizes gambling activities outside of tribal lands. Dabney Friedrich, the U.S. District Judge, ruled in favor of the companies in November 2021. However, the decision was overturned by the appeals court earlier this year, leading to the recent Supreme Court ruling. 

In a bid to secure a stay, attorneys representing the pari-mutuel companies emphasized the broader implications of the appeals court ruling. They cited concerns over the use of IGRA compacts for off-reservation gaming activities. However, Elizabeth Prelogar, U.S. Solicitor General representing the Department of the Interior, countered these arguments and highlighted the unlikelihood of the Supreme Court entertaining the challenge to the appeals court ruling. 

Legal expert Bob Jarvis, from Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law, has suggested that the latest decision by the Supreme Court hints at an aversion to taking up the challenge. According to him, the case might not reach the Supreme Court, potentially ending the legal battle. 

Despite this turn of events, the Seminoles might face a prolonged legal tussle at the state level, further delaying the implementation of the sports betting plan. Jarvis predicts that this legal battle can take up to three years to be resolved. However, the cautious approach by the Seminole reflects a preference for long-term strategies over any hasty decision, considering the potential risks and costs of launching and shutting down the sports betting app. 

The stakes in this legal battle are high for both parties as West Flagler holds three jai alai licenses, and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. operates as Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida. Both expressed concerns over the influence of sports betting plans on their businesses. As the legal tussle continues, the fate of the Florida sports betting plan remains uncertain, keeping the involved parties waiting for a solution in the coming months.