Fresh Lawsuit Filed Against Feds Over Florida Sports Betting

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Another lawsuit has been filed against the Department of Interior over its approval of the Florida sports betting compact earlier this month. Florida sports betting law allows the Seminole exclusive control over sports betting throughout the state.

On Monday, two commercial gaming operations in Florida sued the DOI and Secretary Deb Haaland over approving a 30-year gambling agreement. Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room moved to Washington DC District Court, seeking to stop the Seminole Tribe’s sports betting launch this fall.

Technically, the federal authority did not approve the new compact. They had 45 days to act on the agreement before it was published in the Federal Register. The DOI allowed that period to lapse after which the compact was automatically considered approved.

The latest legal challenge came less than two weeks after the DOI signed off the gambling compact in a cautious way described above.

The state legislature had passed the new gambling compact in May, a month after it was worked out between Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe.

According to the plaintiffs, sports betting – both retail and online – is unlawful under the compact.

What Do the Plaintiffs Say?

Owners of Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida seek a judge to overturn the federal approval of the tribal gaming compact with the State of Florida due to several reasons.

The gaming entities contend in the 43-page lawsuit that Florida sports betting under the compact violates federal law, and will cause a “significant and potentially devastating” impact on their businesses.

The two facilities – both owned by the Havenick family – filed a similar lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee in July. The complaint was amended Monday.

They contended the compact is unlawful because it allows the Seminole Tribe to operate gaming off tribal lands, which runs in violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IRGA). According to the 1986 law, Class III gaming – including sports betting – can only occur in the participating tribe’s sovereign territory.

What is the Center of the Controversy?

The new compact paves the way for the first time for sports betting in the Sunshine State. Under the agreement, the Seminole Tribe will host sports betting, besides contracting with pari-mutuels that would get a share of digital bets placed using the pari-mutuels’ online apps.

The “hub-and-spoke” sports-betting plan would enable Floridians throughout the state to place online bets, which will be processed through computer servers on tribal property.

According to the compact, bets place anywhere in the state using an online app or other electronic devices, “shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the (Seminole) tribe.”

But It’s a ‘Legal Fiction’

But the complainants call the Florida sports betting model a “legal fiction,” which tries to work around IGRA and the state constitution. The federal law does not allow bets that take place in tribal lands, the complainants said.

“Through this fiction, the compact and implementing law seeks to expand sports betting outside of the tribal lands to individuals situated anywhere in the Sunshine State so long as they have a computer and internet connection – subject only to Seminole Tribe’s monopoly,” lawyers for the complainants wrote in Monday’s lawsuit.

The pari-mutuels also contend that Class II gaming expansion is only permissible through a popular vote in a referendum.

“By incorporating the terms of IGRA… Florida effectively proscribed its ability to impose state law interpretations on the scope of tribal-state compacts,” the complainants said, adding that the Sunshine State is also bound by the federal restrictions of IGRA.

More importantly, the complainants contended that according to the state law, Florida sports betting remains illegal for anyone else.

What Does the Compact Allow?

The compact allows the Seminoles to launch sports betting on Oct. 15, though there’s no confirmed date announced so far, according to the tribe.

While the lawsuits seek to keep Florida sports betting from launching, Seminole Gaming officials prepare to go live for statewide sports betting action by October.

While some local gaming operators are taking a legal course to halt Florida sports betting, some commercial operators have launched an independent initiative to legalize commercial sports betting. Recently FanDuel and DraftKings donated $20 million to the so-called Florida Education Champions to kickstart the effort in June.

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