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West Flagler files challenge against DeSantis and FL legislature

| By Marese O'Hagan
West Flagler has filed a state constitutional challenge against Florida governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida state legislature.
West Flagler Florida

This follows the US Department of the Interior (DOI) filing a challenge to oppose West Flagler’s motion to stay, which was filed last week. This motion to stay was a further attempt to keep Hard Rock Bet shut down as West Flagler prepares to appeal to the Supreme Court.

West Flagler’s latest challenge claims that DeSantis “exceeded his authority” when he agreed to a compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida in 2021. DeSantis approved the compact in April 2021, and signed it into law the following month.

The compact gave the Seminoles exclusive access to offer online and in-person sports betting in Florida.

But in November that year, a judge for the District of Columbia ruled that the compact infringed upon the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). This reversed the initial agreement.

West Flagler also argues that the legislature exceeded its authority because it enacted the decision. The filing states that this “undid Florida’s existing blanket prohibition against sports betting, but only for the Tribe, its patrons and participating pari-mutuel facilities”.

“Abuse of authority”

West Flagler’s argument pivots on article X, section 30 of Florida’s Constitution. This article was added to the Constitution after voters approved it in 2018.

Article X section 30 states that casino gambling in Florida can only be introduced through a vote.

“This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorise casino gambling in the State of Florida,” reads the article. “This amendment requires a vote by citizens’ initiative pursuant to article XI, section 3, in order for casino gambling to be authorised under Florida law.

“This section amends this article; and also affects article XI, by making citizens’ initiatives the exclusive method of authorising casino gambling.”

In its filing, West Flagler states that DeSantis approving and signing the 2021 compact – and the legislature enacting it – counts as expanding casino gambling in Florida. Without the presence of a voter-approved constitutional amendment, West Flagler is arguing that this infringes article X section 30.

“The 2021 Compact and Implementing Law are a clear expansion of casino gambling in Florida without a voter-approved constitutional amendment by citizens’ initiative, as required by article X, section 30,” reads the filing. “In so doing, the respondents have exceeded their authority in direct violation of the Florida Constitution.”

“This abuse of authority warrants this court’s review and correction.”

Another step towards sports betting in Florida?

This may be the last chance for West Flagler to block the Seminoles from rolling out Hard Rock Bet. This battle was instigated in December 2021.

The back-and-forth between West Flagler and the state of Florida ramped up in June, when West Flagler and fellow operator Bonita-Fort Myers lost in a suit filed against Debra Haaland. The suit had claimed that Haaland had violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by not acting on the 2021 compact and instead allowing it to pass into law after the 45-day deadline.

Last month, West Flagler filed a petition for a rehearing in the case, which was criticised by the DOI. This was ultimately rejected by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in September.

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