What is IGRA? All The Ways This 35-Year Old Law Can Be Interpreted, Possible Scenarios & Likely Outcomes For Florida Sports Betting
Nearly a month after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals renewed hope for the Seminole Tribe in their efforts to get online sports betting legalized in Florida, not all hope is lost for the bill’s opponents. Though it’s unlikely that the Circuit Court’s ruling will get overturned with a rehearing, there is another path forward for Plaintiff West Flager that might yield more desirable results – a date with the U.S. Supreme Court.
To learn more about the legal grounds of the Seminole Tribe’s case and discuss the avenues that the plaintiffs have in fighting this decision, Lineups sat down with Daniel Wallach, sports betting legal expert and founder of Wallach Legal LLC.
Background of IGRA and The U.S. Sports Betting Market
Nothing has come under more scrutiny throughout the course of this case than the ins-and-outs of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) — the legislation that allows Native American tribes to regulate gaming on their lands.
IGRA was signed in 1988 to offer exclusive rights to the country’s tribes to regulate gaming on their land. This has been challenged by state governments over the years, especially following the repeal of PASPA in 2018, which effectively allowed states to authorize and offer sports betting.
States like Florida, where Native American tribes control a vast majority of local gaming operations, are able to enter into compact agreements with tribes in their state to gain rights to the sports betting market there. These compacts and their stipulations vary by state and the amount of influence that tribes have in that state.
“There are states where tribal gaming is either nonexistent or not particularly robust. In those states, the federal law is either inapplicable or not particularly important,” Wallach said. “But other states like Washington, California, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin – those are states that have a robust Native American gaming industry. In those states, the Indian tribes have strong political influence.”
Legal Logistics of West Flagler vs. DOI Case
In April of 2021, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to bring online sports betting to the state. By November 2021, the tribe had launched its mobile Hard Rock Sportsbook app.
West Flagler Associates, who represents various casinos and racinos around the state, sued the Department of Interior (DOI) for violation of IGRA claiming that the launch of a mobile sports betting app in the state constitutes gaming outside of Indian lands, which contradicts the rules of IGRA. By December of the same year, the app was shut down.
The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the West Flagler plaintiff at which point the Seminole Tribe and the DOI filed appeals.
Fast forward to June 30 of this year, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals did not affirm the lower court’s ruling, and instead ruled in favor of the Seminole Tribe and DOI.
“The District Court erred by reading into the Compact a legal effect it does not (and cannot) have, namely, independently authorizing betting by patrons located outside of the Tribe’s lands,” the case opinion reads. “Rather, the Compact itself authorizes only the betting that occurs on the Tribe’s lands; in this respect it satisfied IGRA.”
In other words, the D.C. District Court of Appeals found that in this case the question at hand was more about who had the jurisdiction to govern these bets than it was about where one was physically located.
Wallach added: “The way the court threaded the needle in this case was by interpreting the online sports betting language in the compact not as an authorization of online sports betting per se, but as a transfer of civil regulatory jurisdiction over these off-reservation bets from the state to the tribe.”
Plaintiffs Can File For Rehearing
At present, West Flagler Associates, the plaintiffs in this case, have until August 15 to submit a petition for rehearing. They will either file a petition for rehearing in front of the same three-judge panel that decided the case, or a petition en banc, which would be a rehearing in front of all the judges in the circuit court. Wallach said that panel and en banc rehearings are “so sparingly granted,” and estimated that usually only one or two cases are taken per year.
“This is a court that sits in Washington D.C. – it’s considered the second-most important court in the country, hearing cases dealing with separation of powers, President Trump’s claims of executive privilege, it deals with really important legal disputes involving the seat of our federal government,” Wallach said.
“I’m not so sure that a gaming statute would be the one or two cases that they take,” he continued.
If the plaintiffs do not file for rehearing and instead accept the circuit court’s June 30 decision, officials have until August 21 to issue the final mandate of the case, at which point the case would effectively be over. However, Wallach expects West Flagler to exhaust all their options.
U.S. Supreme Court Represents Best Option For West Flagler
If the petition is denied, West Flagler’s legal journey isn’t necessarily over. They can file a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court within 90 days of the initial petition’s denial. This is a request for the Supreme Court to order a lower court to send up the record of the case for review.
“If there is any chance for a changed outcome, the U.S. Supreme Court represents the better or, more likely, more palatable option,” Wallach said. “That’s, I think, the most likely vehicle.”
If the rehearing en banc and the writ of certiorari are both denied, Wallach estimates the likely end to the federal case will be sometime in the second quarter of 2024.
At that point, the plaintiffs may still exhaust one more avenue. According to Wallach, they could bring a state court challenge over Florida Amendment 3. This is a state constitutional amendment passed in 2018 that granted voters the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in the State of Florida.” This means that the Florida State Legislature is not permitted to authorize casino gambling through statute.
However, if the writ of certiorari is granted, “the case will likely carry over to 2025, with a decision by June” according to Wallach.