DOCKET IS KNOWN
By Amy Howe
on Oct 25, 2023
at 6:19 p.m
The judges refused to intervene West Flagler Associates v. Haaland on the third. (Phil Roeder via Flickr)
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to overturn a federal appeals court ruling that would have allowed a Native American tribe in Florida to bet on online sports. In an unsigned summary judgment, the justices rejected a request by two Florida casinos to stay a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit while the casinos seek Supreme Court review.
Chief Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the court’s decision to deny the casino’s request. Kavanaugh agreed with the decision not to set aside the DC Circuit’s ruling, but emphasized that the court order’s impact is limited.
The federal law at the center of the controversy is the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act, which was enacted in 1988 to regulate 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 their state. The federal secretary of the interior must approve the compact; if they do not act within 45 days, they are considered legal.
In 2021, Florida and the Seminole tribe reached an agreement that would allow the tribe to offer online betting to anyone in Florida – not just tribal nations. Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior in the Biden administration, did not act on the compact, so it went into effect in August 2021.
Days later, two brick-and-mortar casinos near the tribal-run casino went to federal court, challenging Haaland’s decision to approve the deal. The casinos said that, under the IGRA, compacts can accept games on national borders. They also argued that the agreement violates federal law by allowing online sports betting, and that it violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment by allowing the tribe to offer online sports betting where others could face criminal charges for doing so.
US District Judge Dabney Friedrich granted the casinos’ request to set aside Haaland’s consent to the deal. He said Haaland would have rejected the deal because it breached IGRA by allowing sports betting from outside “Indian countries”.
In a June 30 opinion, the D.C. Circuit reversed Friedrich’s decision and reinstated the contract. It explained that while the IGRA only allows compacts to sanction the game in tribal countries, it does not prevent compacts from dealing with other issues, including non-tribal games. “Whether it is legal for a bettor to bet from non-tribal areas within Florida may be a matter for the state courts, but it is not” a question for the appeals court, the three judges concluded.
The casinos came to the Supreme Court on Oct. 6, asking the justices to stay the DC Circuit’s decision. They told the judges that if they didn’t intervene, there would be “hundreds, maybe millions, of bettors who are violating federal and state laws before this Court has the opportunity to explain the merits” of the case.
But United States Attorney Elizabeth Prelogar, representing Haaland, argued that the DC Circuit had only held that the agreement gave the tribe the power to conduct sports gambling on tribal lands; it did not (as the casino admitted in a Florida Supreme Court filing) admit that the game was legal anywhere else in the state. And casinos can’t say for sure they’ll be harmed if the Supreme Court doesn’t intervene, Prelogar added, as he waited two years before going to state court.
In an unsigned brief Wednesday afternoon, the justices denied the casinos’ request to stay the D.C. Circuit’s decision. There were no public objections recorded.
In a two-paragraph statement, Kavanaugh agreed that the casinos’ petition should be denied because, as the D.C. Circuit made clear, the agreement only allowed gambling on tribal lands. If the company approved another gambling operation in the state, he continued, it “could be in violation” of IGRA. And if federal law allows a tribe to gamble outside of tribal lands, Kavanaugh added, while prohibiting others from doing the same, it could raise “serious” constitutional questions based on recent Supreme Court rulings on racial profiling in college. acceptable. But the legality of the federal law is not before the judges, Kavanaugh concluded, and the Florida Supreme Court is currently considering issues related to the law.
This article was first published in Howe on the Court.