Supreme Court Upholds Online Betting via Seminole Tribe, Reshaping US Gaming Landscape

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In a significant move with implications for online sports betting, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to hear the case of West Flagler Associates, Ltd., et al., v. Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, et al., essentially siding with the lower federal appeals court.

The issue at the heart of the case is the authority of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the state’s legislature to approve online sports betting run by the Seminole Tribe in the Sunshine State. The high court’s majority ruled to dismiss the case, echoing the views of several lower federal appeals courts.

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Of the nine Supreme Court Justices, seven voted against taking up the lawsuit. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson abstained due to her previous professional involvement in the issue. Justice Brent Kavanaugh however, emerged as a solitary dissenter, asserting that the high court should indeed review the case.

Kavanaugh, who was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice in October 2018 after a series of accusations and delays, contended that West Flagler’s case was worth the court’s attention. Kavanaugh’s lone vote in favour of West Flagler was insufficient, since a minimum of four justices’ support is required for the Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling. Consequently, the case was formally laid to rest, with the lower court’s decision prevailing.

At the core of this controversy was the 2021 agreement between Florida and the Seminole Tribe. Critics argued that this agreement, sanctioned by the U.S. Interior Department, violated the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). They contended that it allowed online sports bets to be placed off the tribal lands, in conflict with IGRA’s provisions – the Act confines tribal gaming to tribal lands only.

Yet, in response to these claims, Florida lawmakers amended state gaming laws to permit online tribal sports bets provided they were processed via computer servers based on Seminole territory. Essentially, this move facilitated offsite betting via mobile devices and computers, with the actual wagering process taking place within the boundaries of the Seminole property via a sportsbook computer server.

Lawyers representing The West Flagler challenged the logic of this arrangement, calling the legal justification “absurd”. Nonetheless, federal representatives argued that the IGRA specifically governs gaming on tribal lands and does not apply elsewhere.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to review this case might have broader implications across the country. There could be a cascade of other recognized tribes seeking not only online sports betting rights but also pursuing iGaming privileges. According to Stephen Hart, a partner at Lewis Roca’s Indian Law practice group, this rejection by the Supreme Court is likely to catalyse increased tribal online gaming in collaboration with respective state governments.

It is established knowledge that over two dozen states in the U.S. have active gaming compacts with federally recognized tribes, according to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Supreme Court’s decision could have a profound impact on the landscape of tribal online gaming nationwide.