Friday Showdown Looms In Florida Sports Betting Case, Feds Want To Go It Alone

Posted on November 2, 2021
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Written By on November 2, 2021

All Florida sports betting eyes turn to a federal district court in the District of Columbia on Friday.

The Department of the Interior, including Secretary Deb Haaland, fired back against West Flagler Associates in some of their final pleadings before facing off in front of Judge Dabney Friedrich. However, the feds also filed a response to the Seminole Tribe‘s efforts to intervene and have the case dismissed, arguing that the Tribe’s motion to dismiss should be denied.

The November 5 hearing and ruling, which can be expected within days of oral arguments, was expected to determine whether the Seminole Tribe rolled out sports betting on schedule. Hard Rock Sportsbook launched its Florida sports betting app Monday, however.

The FL sports betting launch survived its first challenge when a lawsuit filed by the same West Flagler Associates plaintiffs against Gov. Ron DeSantis was dismissed.

The Florida sports betting reply brief

The federal government defendants filed two briefs on October 26, one which was a reply to the plaintiffs’ latest filing and one which was a response to the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s efforts to intervene in the case on a limited basis.

In the reply brief, the defendants honed in on the same deficiency that the federal court in the Northern District of Florida highlighted when dismissing the plaintiffs’ lawsuit against the governor: a lack of standing.

The government argues that the plaintiffs failed to show that they have established Article III standing. Without establishing the three standing prongs: injury in fact, causation, and redressability, or in other words, the plaintiffs must show that the Department of the Interior caused the plaintiffs some type of concrete injury and what they are asking the federal court for will fix that problem. If any one of those three prongs is not satisfied, the case will be dismissed.

Deja vu all over again

The defendants highlight a problem with the plaintiffs’ claims related to redressability, a deficiency in the plaintiffs’ Florida-based federal suit. The fault with the plaintiffs’ argument, according to the defendants, is that the plaintiffs are requesting the Court to declare the online Florida sports betting components of the compact void.

Therein lies the problem, according to the Department of the Interior. This is an action against the Department and the Secretary, neither of which affirmatively approved the Compact. The plaintiffs arguably could have asked that the Secretary disapprove the Compact, but the requested relief is according the defendants “untethered from any agency decision in this case.”

While the plaintiffs highlight the memo that accompanied the lapse of time, the defendants emphasize that the directive is not an “agency decision” within the scope of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and therefore not subject to the Court’s review.

Even if you are right, you are wrong

If the plaintiffs’ claims survive the standing arguments, the government argues that the relief the plaintiffs want is not “plausible.”

The government argues that the plaintiffs’ reliance on the Amador County case, which involved another deemed approval, is misguided.

While the defendants attempt to distance the present case from the Amador County case, which involved the Secretary’s obligations under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the defendants’ attacks on the claims that the Compact should have been rejected because it purportedly violates the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and the Wire Act, were much more swiftly rejected as creating an affirmative obligation of the Secretary to reject the Compact as result of the purported violation.

Feds will fight their own battles

In an interesting decision, the federal defendants filed a response to the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s efforts to intervene in the case, stating that before the Court addresses the issue of whether the Tribe is a necessary party and the case should be dismissed according to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19, the case should be dismissed based on the federal defendants standing arguments, which would moot the Seminole Tribe’s efforts to intervene in the case.

Not an automatic dismissal

The federal government’s argument centers on a court’s discretion concerning dismissing cases for failure to join an indispensable party. The defendants stated:

…the Federal Defendants’ position is that tribal and state sovereign immunity and Rule 19 do not require dismissal of every suit where an absent tribe, tribal entity, or state claims an interest, and in particular does not require dismissal of an APA suit seeking judicial review of agency action (or inaction).

The government argues that the government is the only necessary party in an APA case. Therefore the case could proceed (and, in the government’s view, be dismissed) without the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

What to watch in Florida sports betting case

In the Florida-based version of West Flagler Associates’ challenge to the new Compact, we saw that the case was dismissed before oral arguments even took place.

The D.C. version of the challenges (a separate challenge in D.C. involving a different group of business owners/residents/No Casinos advocates plaintiffs) appears likely headed for oral arguments.

Given the upcoming launch date, it is expected that we will hear from federal Judge Friedrich in relatively short order. However, as we have cautioned repeatedly, we are still in the very early rounds of challenges to the new 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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