Florida Sports Betting Lawsuit: Plaintiffs Say IGRA Doesn’t Cover Online Gaming
The plaintiffs that sued to block the Seminole Tribe of Florida from offering online sports betting in the Sunshine State responded Thursday in a federal appeals court to efforts to overturn that decision.
The filing by the Magic City Casino and the Bonita Springs Poker Room in the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is the latest in a legal case against the US Department of the Interior and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland that could affect what tribal gaming operators can offer.
It’s a complex case as both the plaintiffs and the federal government oppose a motion by the Seminole Tribe to be included in the case so it can seek its dismissal.
“While the federal government and the tribe both seek reversal, the tribe’s preferred path is in tension with circuit precedent and, if adopted, could functionally nullify the (Administrative Procedure Act’s) waiver of federal sovereign immunity in the wide swath of cases where federal agency action benefits a tribe or state that cannot be joined to litigation without consent,” the Interior Department stated in its filing on Monday.
The case started more than a year ago, with Magic City and Bonita Springs filing their suit after the Interior Department allowed an amended compact between the tribe and the state of Florida to be deemed as approved. That compact included a provision allowing the Seminole Tribe to offer online sports betting statewide, and the plaintiffs argued – and US District Judge Dabney Friedrich agreed – that the compact went against Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which pertains to gaming on tribal lands.
In its filing Thursday, lawyers for Magic City and Bonita Springs argue that the Seminole Tribe should not be allowed to join because both the tribe and the Interior Department share a common goal: “to defend the legality of the secretary’s decision approving the compact.”
Beyond that, the plaintiffs argue the Interior and the tribe make specious arguments that the online gaming aspects of the compact are covered by Florida law.
The record leaves zero doubt that the compact was intended to obtain IGRA authorization for the betting it permits from off Indian lands,” the plaintiffs’ filing states. “That is the only way such gambling could be authorized in Florida without a referendum, and that is what the tribe and Florida sought to obtain. But IGRA cannot authorize such gambling, and the district court was correct to invalidate the IGRA approval.”
The circuit court has yet to schedule oral arguments in the case.
Whatever decision the DC Circuit makes in the case will almost certainly get appealed by the losing side. Most likely, that would go straight to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court does not have to agree to take on the case if that happens.
If the courts end up ruling for the Interior Department, or if the Seminole Tribe is allowed to join, it could lead to an expansion of online gaming opportunities for tribal nations across the country. However, it’s not likely to be settled at any time in the near future.
Florida Sports Betting Overview
In April 2021, the Seminole Tribe and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis agreed to an amended gaming compact that, among other items, gave the tribe exclusive rights to operate sports betting, including statewide online wagering. The state legislature then approved the 30-year deal in a special session.
In exchange for receiving sports betting exclusivity as well as the rights to offer craps and roulette at its casinos, the Seminole Tribe agreed to make payments to the state, including a total of $2.5 billion over the first five years.
The amended compact also called for the tribe to create a “hub-and-spoke” sports betting network with pari-mutuel gaming operators like Magic City and Bonita Springs. Under that plan, approved pari-mutuel operators would get to host sports betting kiosks and take a share of the proceeds.
Magic City and Bonita Springs sued the US Department of the Interior, arguing the federal agency should have rejected the agreement because the online and kiosk sports betting provisions violated IGRA. They also noted that they could not offer sports betting on their own if they were not part of the tribe’s network, and that would hurt their businesses.
Friedrich concurred in her ruling last November, and she invalidated the amended compact between the tribe and the state of Florida. That ultimately led the Seminoles, which had launched its Hard Rock Sportsbook earlier that month, to shut it down in early December.
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