Feds Respond To West Flagler D.C. Lawsuit On Florida Sports Betting

Posted on October 13, 2021
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Written By on October 13, 2021

The Department of the Interior and Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, responded Tueday to the Florida sports betting lawsuit brought by West Flagler Associates challenging the validity of the federal agency’s approval of the gaming compact signed between Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The whole world was expecting the Department of the Interior to file a motion to dismiss, which was foreshadowed by an agreed-upon timeline. But the feds also filed a motion to transfer the venue for the case to the Northern District of Florida, where West Flagler Associates’ lawsuit against DeSantis is currently proceeding, or alternatively stay the proceeding.

Up next in Florida sports betting

The next filing (barring a surprise) will be the plaintiffs’ reply briefs, which are due October 19, followed quickly by the Defendants’ reply on October 26. This will likely culminate in a hearing on November 5.

At the November 5 hearing, the motions in this case will be heard, and potentially any motions in the Monterra case that has also been filed in the D.C. Circuit.

In the meantime, the world is waiting to see what the Seminole Tribe and their Hard Rock brand choose to do with a planned launch Friday.

Interior motion to dismiss FL sports betting suit

The Department of the Interior’s motion to dismiss the FL sports betting suit also contains opposition to the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment or their alternative request for a preliminary injunction. The Department argues that the Court should dismiss the suit in its entirety. The Government states:

Plaintiffs fail to demonstrate standing and further fail to assert plausible claims for relief in this case. Accordingly, the Court should reject Plaintiffs’ Motion and dismiss this suit in its entirety pursuant to Rule 12.

No leg to stand on?

The Department of the Interior argues that the plaintiffs lack standing because they fail to allege any “actual or impending injury.” Instead, it is argued that the plaintiffs’ injuries are wholly hypothetical. Therefore, the plaintiffs’ claims are too speculative for a court to determine that they have standing according to the Defendants.

The Government takes aim at a survey that was collected over two days by the plaintiffs that were supposed to show they were to suffer harm with the expansion of sports betting to the Seminole Tribe of Florida. However, the defendants argue that even if the Court accepts that the survey’s methodology was reasonable, the results are at best inconclusive.

What we have here … is a failure to communicate

The defendants note that the wording of the survey renders its results suspect, citing an example where:

patrons were not asked if they would engage in online or in-person sports betting to the exclusion of all other games, nor were any of the questions premised on the understanding that Plaintiffs’ facilities would not be the venue for them to do so.

Self-inflicted wounds?

The motion then argues that the only injury that the plaintiffs could suffer would be their self-inflicted injury, which does not count for standing.

Next, the defendants argue that the plaintiffs’ decision to not partner with the Tribe to offer Florida sports betting because it would not be profitable enough is not sufficient to demonstrate an injury for Article III standing.

The government states:

Plaintiffs contend that online sports betting will cause a significant portion of their existing customer base to abandon, for all time, the games Plaintiffs offer in favor of online sports betting. Even if such proposition were accurate, and it is not, the fact that such dire forecast is not enough to incentivize Plaintiffs to join with the Tribe to offer those customers such gaming opportunity illustrates that it is not the deemed approval of the Compact that is the source of Plaintiffs’ purported future injury, but rather Plaintiffs’ own choices.

The problems continue

The Government adds that the plaintiffs fail to bring plausible claims for which relief can be granted.

Firstly, it is argued that the deemed approval of the Compact does not violate the Administrative Procedures Act, because as the letter accompanying the approval notes, “the Secretary does not approve or disapprove a compact . . ..” Without action, there cannot plausibly be an act that violates the statute.

The Government also rejects the plaintiffs’ allegations that the “actions” of the Secretary of the Interior violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

No preliminary injunction either

The Department of the Interior also requests that the Court reject the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction. Again, the Government lawyers highlight a deficiency that we have highlighted in the plaintiffs’ pleadings: the letter that accompanied the deemed approval also states that the Compact is deemed approved only to the extent that it complies with federal law.

As a result, if the plaintiffs:

are right that the online sports betting provisions of the Compact violate IGRA, (and the United States does not concede they are), then as a matter of law, such provisions are not in effect under IGRA and, as a result, there is nothing for the Court to enjoin.

A bonus Florida sports betting filing!

The Government filed a second document the same night, asking that the venue for the case be moved to the Northern District of Florida, where the West Flagler Associates’ lawsuit against Governor DeSantis is currently proceeding.

The Department of the Interior argues that it makes sense that the parallel proceedings occur in the same place.

DOI further notes that the plaintiffs could have filed this federal question litigation in the Northern District of Florida to begin with.

John Holden Avatar
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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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