Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh Wanted to Accept Florida Compact Appeal

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The U.S. Supreme Court today said it would not accept West Flagler Associates, Ltd., et al., v. Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, et al.

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh attends the State of the Union address on Feb. 9, 2019. Kavanaugh was the lone justice on the bench who supported reviewing the case regarding Florida’s online sports betting compact with the Seminole Tribe. (Image: AP)

A majority of the high court justices sided with lower federal appeals courts in motioning to dismiss the case that challenged whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the state’s legislature possessed the authority to authorize the Seminole Tribe to conduct online sports betting in the Sunshine State.

According to the SCOTUS online docket, seven of the nine Supreme Court justices voted to not accept the lawsuit. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson did not vote citing relevant prior judicial service on the matter.

The lone dissenter was Justice Brent Kavanaugh, who supported the high court accepting the case. Kavanaugh voted to grant the West Flagler petition, which was joined by Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation.

A majority isn’t needed for the Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision, but support from four justices is required. With only Kavanaugh voting to certify the petition, the case was formally dismissed and the lower court’s ruling was upheld.

Kavanaugh Alone

Kavanaugh was appointed to the nation’s highest bench in July 2018. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate after weeks of accusations, including sexual assault and a gambling disorder, and assumed his seat that October.

The conservative justice believes West Flagler had a case that at least merited the court’s attention.

The plaintiffs argued that Florida’s 2021 compact with the Seminoles that the U.S. Interior Department approved violated the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) because online sports bets would be allowed off of the tribe’s sovereign land. IGRA provides a regulatory framework and authority for federally recognized tribes to conduct forms of gambling on their reservations.

Florida lawmakers passed legislation redefining the state’s gaming laws to permit tribal sports bets online so long as the wagers are facilitated on computer servers physically located on Seminole land. The statute essentially allows sports bets to originate off Seminole property on mobile devices and computers by transmitting the wager to a Seminole-based sportsbook computer server.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys called the Interior Department’s legal explanation “absurd” and argued that IGRA limits tribal gaming to tribal lands. West Flagler lawyers said the law does not allow “gambling off Indian lands by pretending that it occurred on Indian lands.”

Federal counsel representing the DOI and Secretary Haaland countered that IGRA regulates gaming on tribal lands but “nowhere else.” They told the court that “IGRA does not prohibit a gaming compact … from discussing other topics, including those governing activities ‘outside Indian lands.’”

Far-Reaching Consequences

Legal scholars believe the SCOTUS decision on the Florida compact with the Seminoles could have far-reaching consequences, as numerous other federally recognized tribes might now pursue not only online sports betting but iGaming privileges. Stephen Hart, a partner at Lewis Roca’s Indian Law practice group, told Casino.org that the high court’s rejection will likely lead to more tribal online gaming.

The Supreme Court has denied cert in the West Flagler case. Because they earlier denied a stay, nothing now stops tribes from doing sports betting and internet gaming from their servers on their Indian lands and taking bets from anywhere in the state,” Hart explained. “The Tribes will now have to work with their state governments, but with a compact, they will be able to conduct internet gaming.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are more than two dozen states that presently have active gaming compacts with federally recognized tribes.

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