Florida-based lobbying group No Casinos has filed its amicus curiae brief with the state Supreme Court to support West Flagler Associates’ ongoing challenge to Florida sports betting. Meaning “friend of the court,” an amicus curiae is an expert third-party opinion submitted to a court to assist it in rendering judgment on a complex issue.
The anti-gambling group successfully petitioned to have its late brief considered in the case against Governor Ron DeSantis. The court based that decision on No Casinos having played a lead role in passing Florida’s Amendment 3. That change to the state Constitution granted voters power over gambling expansion and is the likely reason DeSantis attempted to authorize sports betting through a compact rather than legislation.
In its state-focused effort, West Flagler positioned the Compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as violating that aspect of the Constitution. Specifically, West Flagler argued that state law requires that voters approve any future gambling expansion with a referendum outcome of at least 60%.
No Casinos agrees, and presented a summary of its rationale to begin its 33-page brief,
As the author of and most visible advocate for Amendment 3, amicus curiae, No Casinos, Inc., proceeds on the premise that sports betting, which is permitted statewide under the Compact and challenged statutes, is within the definition of casino gambling in article X, section 30, Florida Constitution.
The filing goes on to state that the respondents’ conduct in trying to bypass those requirements, “violates the text, spirit, and public policy” behind Article X, Section 30.
Lobby Group Brands Compact ‘Disrespectful’ to Voters
It may seem surprising a group called ‘No Casinos’ is petitioning on behalf of a casino company. However, existing gambling interests often align with anti-gambling groups in opposition to new forms of gambling.
For example, California Tribes’ Coalition for Safe, Responsible Gaming formed an alliance with 80 faith leaders, public safety groups, business advocates, and civil rights organizations against Prop 27 in favor of Prop 26, the Tribal Sports Wagering Act.
In this case, No Casinos explicitly rejected the Compact’s “hub and spoke” model. The contested rationale bases the location of an online bet on wherever the host server sits.
That approach, the lobby group said, disrespects Florida’s voters.
Indeed, the “hub and spoke” rationale for the Compact and the Implementing Law—“deeming” such gambling to be on Tribal land simply because computer servers are located there—is so transparently false and outcome-driven that it is disrespectful to the Florida Constitution, as the organic and superior law of this State, and disrespectful to the voters who spoke unequivocally in favor of Amendment 3 in 2018.
No Casinos also argues that the ruling in West Flagler’s federal case left space for Florida to test the hub and spoke rationale in court.
From that DC Circuit Court ruling:
Whatever the Tribe and Florida—who are not parties to this litigation—may believe, let us be clear: an IGRA compact cannot provide independent legal authority for gaming activity that occurs outside of Indian lands, where that activity would otherwise violate state law.
The brief continued, referencing another decision by Secretary of the Interior Debra Haaland in a case related to the federal effort.
In Monterra MF LLC v Haaland decision, Haaland wrote:
If a bet is placed within Florida but outside the confines of the Tribe’s Indian lands, the bet occurs outside of Indian lands and must be authorized by state law, rather than IGRA.
Court Urged to ‘Exercise its Discretionary Jurisdiction’
No Casinos ended its argument with “a reminder of the public policy factors that motivated voters” to pass Amendment 3 in 2018.
Namely, that gambling expansion would require a referendum.
Gambling presents unique social consequences, especially here, where casino gambling would be available to anyone in Florida with a cell phone or internet access. These include the risk of official or private influence; increased gambling addiction; the difficulty of policing underage participation of online sports betting; and the Tribe, rather than the State, having the power to regulate and enforce statewide online sports betting under the Compact and Implementing Law.
Respondents’ willingness to overlook and legislate around that power amounts to no more than “legal fiction,” No Casinos suggests.
Instead, it urges the court to “exercise its discretionary jurisdiction” and grant the Petitioners’ request, striking the challenged statutes and Compact provisions as unconstitutional.
This Court should act to preclude the unconstitutional Compact and its implementing statutes from taking effect. Until and unless the voters authorize state-wide sports betting, this Court has the discretionary power and, we think, the duty to invalidate the Respondents’ actions in approving the sports betting provisions of the Compact and in passing implementing statutes. This Court should grant the writ.
Next, the State and DeSantis will submit a further response in the coming weeks.