U.S. Supreme Court lifts stay on Florida sports betting case

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The U.S. Supreme Court is giving a green light to a $2.5 billion gambling deal between Florida and the state’s Seminole Tribe.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who oversees emergency requests from the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., earlier this month issued an administrative stay in the case while the full court considered a request for a long-term stay made by lawyers representing Florida casino operators.

In a two-page decision released on Wednesday, the court stated that it had denied the stay request and vacated the administrative hold put in place by Roberts. But the ruling also included a statement by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who raised questions about whether the 2021 gambling legislation pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis “raises serious equal protection issues.”

This latest decision is unlikely to end the legal battle, since the two Florida casinos challenging the gambling deal had previously said they intended to pursue a full-blown appeal before the high court. There is also a case pending before the state Supreme Court.

The question, however, is whether this latest ruling will prompt the Seminole Tribe to resume sports betting in Florida after a nearly two-year pause.

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

Gov. Ron DeSantis, in concert with legislative leaders like then-Senate President Wilton Simpson, helped put together the gambling deal approved by the GOP-led Legislature in May 2021. It permitted sports betting and also authorized the Tribe to add craps and roulette to its current casinos and build additional casinos on the Tribe’s Hollywood reservation that is already home to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Shortly after the deal was approved, the Seminoles began offering sports betting through a mobile app.

But the compact — as it is also known — has been the target of a flurry of legal challenges, with some of it centered on the Tribe’s ability to offer betting throughout the state, and not just on reservations, due to the app.

The lawsuit, which was filed against the Department of Interior since that agency did not block the compact, has wound its way through two layers of federal courts and prompted divergent views from the judges involved.

After a district judge struck down the compact, a panel of federal appeals court judges overturned the decision and said any dispute over the compact between Florida and the Tribe should be fought in state court.

In his statement, Kavanaugh said he supported removing the stay on that appeals court decision. But he said that if the gambling deal allowed betting outside of tribal lands, then it was likely a violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Kavanaugh then also raised the question of whether there was an equal protection violation due to the state’s actions.

“But the state law’s constitutionality is not squarely presented in this application, and the Florida Supreme Court is in any event currently considering state-law issues related to the Tribe’s potential off-reservation gaming operations,” Kavanaugh stated.

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