TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The future of sports betting in the Sunshine State could hinge on a decision by its highest court.
Justices at the Florida Supreme Court are now mulling whether or not to weigh in on a legal challenge alleging the bets are an illegal expansion of gaming under the state constitution.
During the holiday break on Tuesday of last week, West Flagler Associates — which represents racing and track betting companies — made a final plea for the high court to take up the case.
The group wants justices to strike down the practice, considering it a violation of Amendment 3 in the state Constitution — a 2018 provision that empowers voters to decide whether more gaming is needed in Florida.
Attorneys wrote that justices should step in to "vindicate the People's exclusive right to control the expansion of casino gambling in Florida."
Online sports betting was approved in the 2021 Seminole Gaming Compact. It continues to have the backing of the Legislature, the governor and the tribe. The compact's key provision required sports betting servers be on Seminole land — though critics have maintained that was just a ploy to circumvent the law.
A protracted legal battle on the federal level has raged ever since. It temporarily shelved sports betting until favorable rulings late last year restarted the program, for now at least.
"Yeah, the Seminole Tribe had the legal right to, you know, relaunch their online sportsbook," Daniel Wallach, an attorney at Wallach Legal, said, "but that doesn't necessarily mean the cases are over."
Wallach is a sports betting attorney in Florida who also teaches at the University of Miami School of Law as an adjunct professor. He said it's unclear what will happen next.
While the federal court battle continues and could drag on for months — even reaching the U.S. Supreme Court — Wallach believed the state court would want to act faster. He estimated that could happen within the first quarter of the year. Justices could either take up the issue as requested, send it to a lower court, do nothing or set oral arguments to hear everyone out.
Wallach was betting justices will want to take a look.
"This goes to the, you know, the people's right of initiative— the constitutional power of the electorate to set gambling policy," Wallach said. "And if that's usurped or frustrated, I think that's an issue that demands the attention of the Florida Supreme Court in the first instance."
Time will tell whether the justices agree. They could decide at any time. Rulings usually come on Thursdays, but with the holidays, court officials have said not to expect regular opinions until at least next week.
In the meantime, it's game on for those wanting to wager.