Seminole Tribe Fires Back At West Flagler In Florida Sports Betting Case

Posted on October 12, 2021
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Written By on October 12, 2021

The Seminole Tribe fired back against West Flagler Associates‘ motion in a Florida sports betting lawsuit to exclude them from the gaming magnates’ federal lawsuit in the District of Columbia.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has sought to intervene in the case filed against the Department of the Interior and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. West Flagler Associates has argued that the Secretary and Department adequately represent the interests of the Seminole Tribe, and therefore the Tribe’s inclusion would be duplicative.

West Flagler has also objected, assuming the Seminole Tribe of Florida is allowed to intervene, to the Tribe being allowed to intervene on a limited basis. The intervention would allow the Tribe to intervene in the FL sports betting case while maintaining their sovereign immunity.

Recap on West Flagler opposition in Florida sports betting

In their opposition to the Seminole Tribe’s intervention, West Flagler Associates argued that the Tribe does not need to be present to have their interest in the Florida Compact vindicated because the Secretary of the Interior and the Department itself will adequately defend the Compact’s existence and coming into law.

The argument made by the South Florida gaming operators is effectively that the Tribe will make the same arguments (e.g., that the Compact is valid) as the Department of the Interior will make.

Opposing the intervention of the Tribe was an expected response to the Tribe’s motion. However, that the Department of the Interior did not affirmatively affirm the Compact and instead let it come into force (to the extent it complies with federal law) might undercut some of the plaintiffs’ arguments.

Breaking down the Tribe’s arguments

The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s first argument in their reply brief is that the plaintiffs have misapplied rules 19 and 24(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Next, the Tribe argues that the plaintiffs say the Tribe is not a proper party based on merits (as opposed to procedural) arguments, which the plaintiffs acknowledge are not appropriate and this juncture in the case.

Secondly, the Tribe argues that predictions that there would be litigation about the Compact (notably, statements by Hard Rock Casino Chairman Jim Allen) did not waive any of the Tribe’s procedural objections to future litigation. The Tribe argues that simply acknowledging that the Compact was likely to be challenged was not admitting that a lawsuit would be proper.

The Tribe notes in concluding their primary argument by noting that the motion to intervene and subsequent response is not the place to address the case’s legal issues.

The PPI, Inc. case

The Seminole Tribe notes that in their response to the Tribe’s motion to intervene, the plaintiffs dismissed a case from 2008 in which a federal district court determined that the Seminole Tribe’s interests “were sufficient” to permit intervention as an indispensable party in a lawsuit challenging the Tribe’s 2007 Compact filed against the Department of the Interior.

The Tribe’s lawyers convincingly highlight several similarities between the PPI, Inc case and the present matter, stating:

As in PPI, Inc., Plaintiffs in this case operate pari-mutuel facilities in the State and seek to challenge Class III games authorized by an IGRA compact between the State and the Tribe, and they ask the Court to declare provisions in the Compact unlawful. In PPI, Inc., the Tribe filed a motion for limited intervention under Rule 24 and moved to dismiss the case pursuant to Rule 19—just like the Tribe’s Motions filed in this case.

The Tribe argues that the plaintiffs’ dismissal of the precedent as an unpublished decision is misguided. Typically, unpublished opinions lack precedential value; however, they can still be influential, particularly where there is a lack of published case law around a particular issue.

Rule 24 (a) too

The Seminole Tribe’s lawyers further argue that the Tribe’s limited intervention is proper, citing several federal cases that allowed Tribe to intervene on a limited basis, to challenge their failure to be joined as an indispensable party, and to push for a dismissal.

The Tribe argues that they have multiple interests that confer Article III standing and thus a right to intervene under rule 24 (a).

The Seminole Tribe of Florida argues that the Department (and Secretary) of the Interior do not adequately represent their interests, noting a history of cases where Tribes demonstrated that while interests may be held in common, their interests were not adequately represented.

The Tribe then asks that the federal court grant its motion to dismiss the case based on West Flagler’s failure to add the Tribe as an indispensable party.

Busy few weeks ahead in Florida sports betting

The coming few weeks will be busy as we expect the Department of the Interior to file its response to the plaintiffs’ motion today. Then the Plaintiffs will reply the following week, leading to an oral argument in Washington D.C. sometime between October 26, and November 15. The market is scheduled to launch later this week, in some form.

In a reminder that the gaming world is still pretty small, the Seminole Tribe of Florida is represented by Barry Richard of Greenberg Traurig. He previously represented Casino City in their First Amendment case against the Department of Justice.

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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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