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Florida Sports Betting SCOTUS Ruling Could Have National Impact

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Earlier this week, the Seminole Tribe secured a legal victory to keep Florida’s sports betting model intact when the Supreme Court denied West Flagler Associates’ petition for writ of certiorari.

WFA argued the Seminoles’ gaming compact with Florida, which allows the Seminole Tribe to process bets placed outside Indian lands on servers located within Indian lands, violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. With the Supreme Court not taking up the case, WFA’s chances of a legal reversal of the compact look slim.

The victory for the Seminoles drew national attention in the sports betting industry, with major interest in the potential national ramifications for other states with tribal gaming.

“I think there’s still a lot of questions,” Brendan Bussmann, managing partner at B Global, told Sports Handle.

Among the major questions: Could the Florida SCOTUS ruling impact California’s push for sports betting legalization?

Could California Follow Florida?

A 2022 effort to legalize online sports betting in California through a ballot initiative failed miserably, as the state’s tribes voiced displeasure against the legalization effort spearheaded by major sports betting companies. In the years since, it’s become evident – even to major sports betting operators like FanDuel – that tribal support is paramount for the legalization of sports betting in California.

“In California, the ballot initiative fiascos are so fresh on the minds of everybody, that it would seem to be inadvisable to go back to the electorate so quickly after 2022, and that might encompass 2026 as well,” sports betting attorney Daniel Wallach said.

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There’s seemingly value in California tribes attempting to work with Governor Gavin Newsom to mimic Florida’s sports betting model. That could be an easier path, and a less costly one, than pouring millions of dollars into future ballot initiatives.

“Going through the Governor, lobbying, at least in my opinion is a fraction of the expense if you would have to compare it to having to go through the public ballot initiative,” Samir Patel, an associate at Holland & Knight LLP, said.

Wallach agrees with Patel.

“I think California tribes would be well-positioned to advance the argument that the legislature can approve a compact negotiated between the governor and the tribes,” Wallach said. “Whether that’s politically realistic or not, that’s beyond my sphere of knowledge. That really comes down to the inner workings of the political process in California.”

Political Challenges

Even though the ruling in Florida could provide a playbook for states like California to follow, the Sunshine State’s political landscape differs dramatically from other states and their tribal relationships. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was willing to work with the Seminole Tribe to come to an agreement to get sports betting up and running.

In Oklahoma, for example, Governor Kevin Stitt’s subpar relationship with the state’s tribes has proved to be a roadblock for sports betting legalization.

In California, there are more than 100 federally recognized tribes. In Florida, there are two. More than 60 of the California tribes offer some form of gaming.

“Everybody keeps saying, ‘Oh, this verifies the hub-and-spoke model?’” Bussmann said. “How do you do a hub-and-spoke model with 60 tribes? Who decides who is the hub and who is the spoke?”

In Florida, Gov. DeSantis and the Seminoles worked together to craft a compact. In California, is there a similar willingness from the Governor? Are Californians as interested in sports betting legalization as Floridians? Could there be a political impact for Newsom and others if they try to usher in sports gambling? How long might it take to get more than 60 tribes – and sports betting operators – on the same page about next steps?

The Seminoles’ legal victory doesn’t guarantee changes in other states, even if it creates a potential path to follow.

“It’s not a slam dunk,” Patel said. “A lot of legal pundits out there, they’re conflating what they know of the law with what they don’t know of politics. It’s not that easy.”

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