Analyzing Latest Filing In Florida Sports Betting Compact Litigation

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Florida sports betting

We knew that this motion was coming in the Florida sports betting litigation saga.

That’s thanks to an agreed-upon timeline that West Flagler Associates and the Department of Interior agreed to earlier this month. But as expected, the South Florida-based operators of Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room, filed their motion for summary judgment in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia.

According to the schedule, Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland and the Department of the Interior will file their response and any cross-motions on or before October 12. A motion to dismiss is one such motion to expect from Interior, but we will not know for another few weeks.

What is a motion for summary judgment?

As a quick primer, a motion for summary judgment is a motion permissible in federal court by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

Rule 56 states:

A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense — or the part of each claim or defense — on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court should state on the record the reasons for granting or denying the motion.

The key phrase in the rule is no dispute over a material fact. In other words, if both sides agree that the facts are the same and the only question is as to the lawthen the judge can grant the motion (or grant it partially,) effectively declaring the moving party (the side making the motion) as the winner.

What’s the argument about sports betting in Florida?

West Flagler Associates argues that the recent compact reached between Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and subsequently ratified by the Florida legislature, impermissibly extends sports betting in FL “to any person located anywhere within the state of Florida. (emphasis in original).”

The argument centers on the language in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”) that references gaming being conducted on tribal lands. West Flagler Associates calls the new Seminole Compact “unprecedented and unlawful,” because the Secretary and Department of the Interior have, for the first time, approved a compact that will allow mobile wagering by individuals not located on the tribal property. The servers receiving the wagers are required to be on tribal land.

It ‘must’ be set aside

West Flagler Associates argues that the District Court must set aside the new compact, as the Secretary of the Interior can only approve compacts that comport with federal law. West Flagler argues this compact does not, because:

While the plaintiffs are asking that the District Court set aside the compact, they do offer that if the judge does not want to throw the compact out, the ujdge should issue a preliminary injunction stopping the compact from coming into effect.

Getting into the arguments

The plaintiffs note that virtually all sports betting in Florida has occurred illegally until the compact comes into effect. The plaintiffs argue that there are two ways that sports betting could be brought to Florida, neither of which occurred.

In the first scenario, West Flagler Associates concedes that the state and a tribe could agree to a compact that allows on-property wagering and conceivably a Mississippi-style on-premises mobile would appear to satisfy this argument.

The second way to bring FL sports betting and allow off-tribal property wagering is via a referendum as a result of 2018’s Amendment 3.

It centers on where you are

The crux of the plaintiffs’ argument focuses on the language in the compact that deals with the deeming of a bet to be where the server (or device) accepting the wager is located. The plaintiffs also highlight the fact that the Secretary (and Department) allowed the compact to come into being not by approving, but instead by letting time lapse (IGRA dictates that the Secretary has 45 days to approve or deny a compact and if neither occurs, the compact is deemed approved).

But after choosing not to approve the compact explicitly, the Department of the Interior included a lengthy letter justifies the compact. The plaintiffs take further note that the Department of the Interior’s letter does not address the Wire Act or UIGEA.

What it all boils down to

The plaintiffs argue that the compact will harm them. The argument notes that the Havenick family has operated West Flagler for 65 years and that the new compact will cause irreparable harm to the business. The plaintiffs note that they hired experts to conduct a survey of their customers with regards to their future gambling intentions, finding:

The results of that survey confirmed Plaintiffs’ concerns that the Tribe’s online sports betting business will cannibalize Plaintiffs’ in-person gaming business, both by permitting customers to gamble remotely, and by offering types of sports gaming that Plaintiffs are not permitted to offer by law.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to grant them summary judgment as a matter of law because of these arguments.

What is ahead in Florida sports betting?

We will know how the Department of the Interior feels about this motion on or before October 12. However, one thing is an inevitability: they will have a different view of things than the West Flagler plaintiffs.

This case has a significant impact on state-tribal relationships across the country. It is certainly being watched closely by those in California, amongst other states.

One thing to continue to keep at the forefront is that this case is certain to be appealed regardless of what happens in the District Court. We are in the very early days of this litigation.