West Flagler Hits a Dead End in Florida as Supreme Court Denies Quo Warranto

West Flagler Associates is rapidly running out of options for its challenge to Florida’s sports betting model, having been rebuffed by the Florida Supreme Court while waiting for what will likely be a similarly unfavorable response at the federal level. On both fronts, courts have indicated to the retail gambling operator that it is approaching its challenge the wrong way. That leaves a sliver of hope for West Flagler but means it will likely have to go all the way back to the drawing board.

A do-over at the state level will likely require West Flagler to start at the bottom of the court system. It had attempted to bypass lower courts by filing a petition for quo warranto. However, the Supreme Court was unequivocal in its rejection of that strategy:

Framed as it is, the petition presents nothing other than a challenge to the substantive constitutionality of the law ratifying the compact. But quo warranto is not, and has never been, the proper vehicle to obtain a declaration as to the substantive constitutionality of an enacted law.

Florida’s sports betting model consists of a tribal gaming compact granting the Seminole Tribe the right to conduct sports betting and a separate implementing law. The state Constitution prohibits gambling, so any new form of off-reservation gambling would require an amendment and a referendum. However, the compact and implementing law interpret online bets to take place wherever the receiving servers are. Under that logic, any bets the Tribe receives on its lands constitute on-reservation wagering.

Why Was West Flagler Petitioning For Quo Warranto?

West Flagler began its fight on the federal stage, challenging whether the Department of the Interior had erred in allowing the compact. However, its arguments hinged on questions of state law, so the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia ruled against the company, stating that it was a matter best left to state courts.

Technically, West Flagler is still awaiting a decision on its appeal to the federal Supreme Court. However, SCOTUS already denied its request for a stay, with commentary suggesting that the justices are likely to agree with the Circuit Court.

Following its loss, West Flagler took the DC Circuit Court’s advice and began a state-level challenge. However, with Hard Rock Bet relaunching its operations, West Flagler appeared to be in too much of a hurry to file a standard constitutional challenge, beginning in trial court. Instead, it took the unusual tack of petitioning directly to the Supreme Court for a writ of quo warranto.

Quo warranto is the procedure by which the judicial branch of government can challenge whether officials in other branches have overstepped their authority. In plain English, West Flagler was asking the Florida Supreme Court to challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers to justify how their actions fit within their official powers and responsibilities.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the Florida Supreme Court rejected that approach. Courts are generally disinclined to consider exceptional remedies when standard legal tools would be adequate for the task.

Quo Warranto Denied

DeSantis and his fellow respondents presented five reasons the court should deny the request. However, the court’s opinion ignores all but one, saying that the others are unnecessary. This final reason was that questioning whether state officials had the constitutional authority to enact a policy is effectively the same as questioning the policy’s constitutionality.

Chief Justice Carlos G. Muñiz wrote:

Ultimately, the relief that Petitioners seek is beyond what quo warranto provides. We have never used the writ to test the substantive constitutionality of a statute, and we decline Petitioners’ implicit invitation to expand the scope of the writ here. To do so would serve as an affront to an essential feature of quo warranto—that it is used to challenge the authority to exercise a state power rather than the merits of the action.

He goes on to point out that the Supreme Court would be exceeding its own authority to use quo warranto rule directly on the constitutionality of a statute—something that falls first to a trial court. The remainder of the justices concurred unanimously with the result.

What’s Next For West Flagler?

West Flagler can still hope that the US Supreme Court will take its case despite apparently signaling that this is unlikely. If that doesn’t happen, the casino operator will need to start over, whether at the federal level, state level, or both.

In penning the decision denying West Flagler a stay, Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggested it would have more luck challenging the implementing law than the compact. Some, including gaming law attorney Daniel Wallach, have guessed that this might mean West Flagler begins a new federal lawsuit regarding the law once its current effort has played out.

Similarly, the Florida Supreme Court didn’t rule that West Flagler’s claims are entirely without merit. It simply found that a petition for quo warranto was not an appropriate way to go about making those claims. So, West Flagler could also restart its state-level challenge, but the case would have to start in trial court.

This would mean a lengthy appeals process before either case could make its way back up to its respective Supreme Court. West Flagler’s federal lawsuit began in late 2021 and has taken about two-and-a-half years to reach this point. If it chooses to fight until all its options are exhausted, this is a battle we could see drag on into 2026 or 2027.

About the Author

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon is an online gambling industry analyst with nearly ten years of experience. He currently serves as Casino News Managing Editor for Bonus.com, part of the Catena Media Network. Other gambling news sites he has contributed to include PlayUSA and Online Poker Report, and his writing has been cited in The Atlantic.
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