New Lawsuit Challenging Florida Sports Betting Compact Filed In DC

Posted on September 28, 2021
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Written By on September 28, 2021

Another challenge to the new compact between Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida was filed Monday in the Federal Court for the District of Columbia.

The new lawsuit joins the D.C.-based challenge brought by West Flagler Associates, the owners of the Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs. The new lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a limited liability company, several individuals, property owners, and the No Casinos group.

Background on Florida sports betting plaintiffs

The complaint lists the plaintiffs as a group of Florida-based businesses and property owners who are suing Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, and the Department of the Interior, alleging that the defendants perpetrated an “unlawful federal agency action” when they allowed the new compact between the Seminole Tribe and the State of Florida to pass a 45-day window without approval or rejection.

A long history of opposition

The complaint cites a long history of opposition to gambling in the Sunshine State, arguing that gambling has only existed via exceptions instead of being generally accepted. In addition, the plaintiffs point to 2018’s Amendment 3, which passed with 71.5 percent of the vote, as evidence that voters continue to oppose expanded casino gambling.

The plaintiffs argue that the Department of the Interior “improperly allowed” the State of Florida to end-run around Amendment 3 and thereby subvert the state Constitution’s voter approval requirement to expand FL sports betting without voter approval.

Sports betting too

The complaint argues that the approved compact’s Florida sports betting provisions violate various federal laws. The plaintiffs make similar allegations as those in the West Flagler Associates’ complaint that the FL sports betting provisions violate the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), Wire Act, and Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA.)

The complaint alleges the 2021 compact does not provide a “mechanism for determining the physical location of bettors” and that bettors can buy software that allows them to evade the geographical limits of permissible sports betting.

Meat of the Florida sports betting complaint

The substance of the complaint focuses on the sports betting aspect of the 2021 compact, like the West Flagler Associates complaints. Still, the plaintiffs here also target the compact provisions and legislation “decoupling” the agreement from Florida’s laws governing gambling.

The complaint states:

Under the Decoupling Legislation, the “exempted” gambling activities, including craps, roulette, and sports betting “conducted pursuant to [the] gaming compact,” would no longer be subject to Florida’s general prohibition on gambling.

The complaint alleges that the authorizations of Florida sports betting, craps, and roulette have not been authorized under state law.

A lot of inconsistency

The complaint aims at the Department of the Interior’s approval by inaction by arguing that this approval is a departure from federal policy positions of the past, citing to the amicus curiae brief that the government submitted in 1999 in the Coeur D’Alene Tribe case. It also points to correspondence from National Indian Gaming Commission correspondence opining:

The use of the Internet, even though the computer server may be located on Indian lands, would constitute off-reservation gaming to the extent any of the players were located off Indian lands.

The complaint then highlights that as recently as 2018, in Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, the United States was a co-plaintiff suing the Iipay Nation Tribe over their operation of Desert Rose bingo.

Letter to the Interior

The complaint reveals that No Casinos wrote to the Department of the Interior on June 9, 2021 expressing numerous concerns with the compact, including that:

the 2021 Compact was inconsistent with the intent of the IGRA because it sought to “enrich non-tribal” interests rather than “protect the sovereign rights and interests of Native American Tribes and Peoples.

The complaint then notes that it is unclear whether any of the letters sent to the Department of the Interior were given any weight, as none of them were mentioned in the department’s letter allowing the compact to come into force.

What’s that now?

The complaint then takes a turn, arguing:

But the Tribe has never explained why or how mobile sports betting would be limited to individuals within the State of Florida … such limits are not technically possible.

It is unclear why the plaintiffs do not believe that the geofencing used in other jurisdictions would not adequately suffice in Florida. It is not immediately clear if the plaintiffs are alleging because this is not specified in the agreement or enabling legislation that it would not be adopted.

As an aside, operators would face significant federal criminal law exposure if they knowingly accepted wagers from out of state.

An intriguing omission?

In footnote two of the complaint, the plaintiffs imply (citing literature on economic and social costs of gambling expansion) that gaming expansion could hurt property values.

Despite this assertion, the plaintiffs do not appear to be arguing that the authorization of the compact amounts to a constitutional taking.

What to make of this?

This lawsuit is yet another attempt to stop the launch of sports betting in the Sunshine State. This one faces many of the same obstacles as the West Flagler Associates lawsuits, including questions about standing, as well as inevitable rebuttals to the claims themselves.

The plaintiffs ask that the 2021 compact be set aside, an order declaring that the compact violates various laws, and an order granting a preliminary injunction. This lawsuit will be several weeks behind the others, and we still may see a state-level challenge to the constitutionality of the compact.

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John Holden

John Holden J.D. / Ph.D. is an academic. His research focuses on policy issues surrounding sports corruption.

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