The Miami Herald reported recently that the Miami-based Havenick family had plans to sell Magic City Casino to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who are based in Alabama, which could have a knock-on effect for Florida sports betting.
While the sale of a gaming property may not automatically scream ‘important sports betting news,’ in this case, it is worth noting that the Havenick family are the owners of West Flagler Associates. West Flagler Associates is the Florida-based gaming entity that sued both the Governor of Florida, in a lawsuit that was dismissed, and the Department of Interior over the 2021 gaming compact that was negotiated between Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The announcement is perhaps most interesting because of the timing, as oral arguments are set in the appeal filed by the Department of the Interior over West Flagler’s District Court victory, which resulted in the plug being pulled on FL sports betting, on December 14 at the federal D.C. Court of Appeals.
What is reportedly being sold?
The report in the Miami Herald details that Magic City Casino is being sold to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians for an undisclosed amount of money. As part of the deal, the Alabama-based tribe will reportedly receive the permits necessary to operate and own the Magic City Casino, as well as the greyhound racing permit, which was issued in 1931.
While dog racing is now banned, the permit allows the operation of slot machines at the Magic City property, as well as other South Florida facilities, according to the Herald story.
The story further notes that approval of the transaction will be subject to approval by the newly established Florida Gaming Control Commission.
How that commission appeared
The Gaming Control Commission was created during a special legislative session held in association with the approval of the newly minted Compact back in 2021. In December of that year, the government appointed the five members of the Commission tasked with overseeing the Florida gaming industry.
The Commission’s staff reportedly recommended approval of the deal in a memo issued to the five commissioners, though the Herald story notes that much of the details of the deal were redacted from public view.
Despite the pending sale of perhaps the Havernick family’s most-prominent property, the Herald reports that the family is not leaving the gaming industry altogether. Instead, the family will continue operating its jai alai fronton and the Bonita Springs Poker Room.
Not so fast, my friends
Despite the positive recommendation, the Commission put off approval of the transfer.
According to Steve Schult of PlayFL, an attorney for the Seminole Tribe of Florida “petitioned the FGCC to block the license transfer.”
What does this mean for Florida sports betting litigation?
In the most likely event, this means nothing for the current litigation at the D.C. Court of Appeals even assuming the transfer is approved.
While not frequently mentioned, the lawsuit filed that ultimately took down the Florida Compact and turned the regulated Florida sports betting tap off also included the Bonita – Fort Myers Corporation, who own and operate the Bonita Springs Poker Room. This property was not a part of the sale to the Alabama-based Tribe.
It is also likely that the incoming purchasers of Magic City Casino will want the District Court’s decision upheld and could seek to appeal a decision in favor of the Department of Interior because even though the purchasing group is a federally recognized tribe, the property will be operated on a commercial basis, making unable to qualify as tribal lands under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
You want out? We’ll see about that
Even if West Flagler Associates wanted to drop out of the suit, the federal government is the party appealing the District Court’s decision. The federal government wants to see the case resolved in its favor.
The addition of Poarch Band of Creek Indians to the mix also seems unlikely to change what seems like an inevitable Supreme Court appeal regardless of how the D.C. Circuit rules, as it is unlikely the group would want to participate in the arrangement spelled out in the 2021 Compact for the same reasons that West Flagler opposes the Compact.
Even if the group dropped out, it seems possible, at minimum, that the Bonita-Fort Meyers Corporation would continue and see this litigation to its terminal point.
So what is the takeaway for sports betting in Florida?
The pending sale of Magic City Casino would be a huge shakeup in the Florida gaming landscape.
The Havernick family has been the dominant player in the South Florida commercial gaming scene for decades now, and the addition of a new player is an interesting plot twist, especially after an initiative backed by casino magnates failed to make the ballot for November. While this move may spark more interest in the Florida market, it seems unlikely to impact the ongoing litigation over the 2021 Compact significantly.
In looking ahead at oral arguments slated for December 14, the D.C. Court of Appeals will hear from not only the Department of Justice on behalf of the Department of Interior and lawyers for West Flagler Associates and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, but also from lawyers representing the State of Florida.
There have even been two minutes of oral argument time granted to the lawyers representing the Monterra plaintiffs, who filed a similar but separate lawsuit against the Department of Interior.