The US Department of Interior (DOI) has hit back at West Flagler’s “strawman arguments” over its request for a rehearing in the Florida sports betting case.

In a 25-page response, the DOI criticised the en-banc hearing request by two Florida pari-mutuel betting operators, after the businesses lost their case in the DC Circuit Court challenging the Seminole Tribe’s compact with the State of Florida.

The compact, through its “hub and spoke” model, grants Seminole the exclusive right to offer online sports betting in the Sunshine State. The tribe plans to launch the offering through its Hard Rock Bet brand.

the original ruling cleared the compact’s “hub and spoke” model from federal objections

‘Rehearing is unwarranted

The department pushed back against the “erroneous assertions” of the pari-mutuels. It argued the compact does not legalise the placing of bets. As evidence, it highlighted that the court’s decision does not prevent the plaintiffs from challenging the compact in the state courts.

A “rehearing is unwarranted”, concluded the DOI.

The DC Circuit now will decide whether to grant West Flager’s request for an en-banc rehearing. This would involve the entire DC Circuit bench of judges ruling on the case. This is opposed to the original panel of three that heard the case.

However, as outlined by experts on iGB’s World Series of Politics podcast, both routes have potential obstacles that would complicate further litigation.

En-banc rehearing rare event

Successful en-banc petitions are rare in the DC Circuit, with only a small number of successful cases in recent years. If it fails, litigators will have the option of trying in the state courts or appealing up to the US Supreme Court.

The DOI emphasised this, pointing to case law saying courts should grant such petitions “only in the rarest of circumstances”.

“This case does not present that rare circumstance,” said the DOI.

The latest twist in Florida betting case

The state and the tribe agreed the original compact in April 2021. Governor Ron DeSantis signed the compact into law the following month. The DOI must approve any compact, which it did once it took no action after the requisite 45-day notice period.

The compact cleared the Seminoles to offer roulette and craps games at their casinos. The Seminoles on the other hand could launch online sports betting through servers on tribal land.

In September 2021, West Flagler challenged the compact in federal court. This legal challenge proved successful, with the US District Court in the District of Columbia ruling the compact’s online provisions violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

This was done, the judge argued, by effectively expanding gaming beyond tribal lands and that, as such, the DOI had no authority to authorise the compact.

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