With less than a month before the first legal sports bets could be placed in Florida, the action in federal courtrooms is beginning to heat up. More filings are expected to take place in the coming days that could determine whether the Seminole Tribe of Florida will be able to take wagers off tribal lands.
On Monday, lawyers for the tribe requested oral arguments for its recently filed motions to intervene and dismiss the case brought on by two Florida pari-mutuel gaming operators. The gaming operators have claimed the new gaming compact between the Seminoles and the state violates state and federal laws.
On Friday, in a federal courthouse in Florida, the Magic City Casino and the Bonita Springs Poker Room had filed a motion seeking “expedited consideration” of pending motions in that case. The casino, which is located in Miami, and the poker room, located about 20 miles south of Fort Myers, are owned by the same company.
In its motion, filed in the US District Court in Florida’s Northern District, the plaintiffs are asking for a schedule that would allow for a decision to be made by Nov. 15, which they contend is when the sports betting portions of the compact would be implemented.
The compact seeks to, among other things, provide the Tribe with a statewide monopoly to offer sports betting, including online and off-reservation sports,” the motion states. “This agreement is based on a legal fiction that the bets are deemed ‘placed’ at computer servers located on the Tribe’s reservation even though the bettors can be located anywhere in the state.”
The compact, which was agreed to in the spring and ratified by the Florida legislature in a special session, allows the Seminoles to offer online wagering statewide. It also calls for the tribe to partner with several pari-mutuel facilities – such as Magic City, where jai alai is played, and Bonita Springs, which hosts a racing and jai alai simulcast center – and have kiosks based in them. The plaintiffs contend that piece of the compact is also illegal, because it, too, operates off tribal lands.
The plaintiffs filed the suit in Tallahassee on July 2.
Movement Afoot in DC Federal Case, too
The same plaintiffs in the Florida federal suit also filed a second complaint in the District of Columbia federal district court. In that case, the pari-mutuel operators filed against the Interior Department and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Aug. 16. In the complaint, the businesses allege the compact is unlawful because allowing the Seminoles to offer sports betting off its sovereign land goes against the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
Federal officials received the compact on June 21, starting a 45-day review process. On Aug. 7, federal officials announced they took no action on the agreement, which means it’s approved. However, in the notification letter, federal officials note that approval just covers parts of the agreement that are consistent with IGRA.
Last week, District of Columbia US District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich released a time line to receive briefings from both the Florida-based gaming companies that filed the suit, and the Department of the Interior, which approved the revised gaming compact between the Seminoles and the state of Florida.
Last Wednesday, Friedrich ordered the plaintiffs to file either a motion for summary judgment or for a preliminary injunction – or both – by Tuesday. From there, the defendants would have until Oct. 12 to respond and file any cross-motion, such as to dismiss the case.
Replies to the filings would be due by Oct. 19 for the plaintiffs, and Oct. 26 for the defendants.
Seminoles Claim Vested Interest
While a motion for an injunction seems likely during the next couple of days, a new wrinkle to the case was added Friday. That’s when the Seminoles filed a motion to intervene and announced its intention to seek a dismissal of the DC-based case.
In the filing, the tribe’s lawyers said it has the right to intervene because it would be directly impacted economically by any ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor. Neither Haaland nor the federal agency have such an interest in the case.
“(T)he tribe expects to realize significant increased profits from expanded gaming under the 2021 compact, including from the online sports betting specifically challenged in this case,” the motion stated. “Those profits would be lost if the department’s deemed approval of the 2021 compact were vacated and set aside, as plaintiffs request.”
The Seminoles also point out that the sports betting portions of the amended gaming compact are severable. Since that means a court could choose to invalidate some of those provisions while leaving the remainder valid, the tribe’s lawyers contend that gives the government “even less reason to vigorously defend” the provisions tribal leaders deem vital.
After receiving the Seminoles motion, Friedrich gave the plaintiffs the choice to respond directly by Friday, or include that response in a motion for summary judgment before then.
While online sports betting may not launch until November, it’s expected that retail sports betting at Seminole casinos could start around mid-October.