Lawsuits promised after DOI approves expanded Florida Seminole online gambling compact

Haley Hintze
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Posted on August 9, 2021 1:43 pm EDT

Thursday’s approval by the U.S.’s federal Department of the Interior of a broadly expanded gambling compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe will bring a bevy of new lawsuits seeking to declare the compact illegal. The compact both authorizes and cedes control to the tribe of most forms of online gambling throughout Florida.

Bryan Newland, head of the DOI’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, wrote: “After thorough review under IGRA, we have taken no action to approve or disapprove the Compact before August 5, 2021, the 45th day. As a result, the Compact is considered to have been approved by operation of law to the extent that it complies with IGRA and existing Federal law. The Compact will become effective upon the publication of notice in the Federal Register.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s office negotiated the compact earlier this year. The compact received fast-track legislative approval. It authorizes online casino gambling and both live and online sports betting throughout the state. However, the compact’s opponents, which include many of Florida’s poker rooms, have protested that the deal is illegal in several ways.

Compact orders Florida pari-mutuel facilities to serve as Seminoles’ agents

Among the compact’s most controversial aspects is its sports-betting authorization. The agreement authorizes the Seminole Tribe’s exclusive control over sports betting, which is expected to be a huge cash cow. The online portion of the sports-betting approval risked violating IGRA (the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act). IGRA’s rules have blocked other American tribal nations from offering any form of online but off-reservation gambling.

The compact’s opponents assert that the BIA has itself ignored IGRA’s mandates in allowing the time-triggered approval. IGRA’s rules have withstood other tribal efforts to establish online gambling; they’re established case law across the U.S. The new deal forces the Seminole Tribe to contract with as few as three of the state’s dozens of pari-mutuel facilities. However, any pari-mutuel site that contracts with the Tribe must send 40% of their profits to the Tribe.

Most Florida poker rooms operate in tandem with these pari-mutuel facilities. The expanded deal between Florida and the Seminole Tribe may impact them negatively in several ways. First, legislators stripped language approving online poker from the compact’s language during final approval.

Second, the pari-mutuel facilities themselves believe they have the right to offer full sports-betting services if Florida approves. Most of these facilities can be shut out under the compact’s rules. Third, the compact contains a “poison pill.” If the online-gambling portion is deemed illegal, the Seminole Tribe can offer sports betting at its casinos anyway.

More lawsuits coming, restraining order sought

The combination of adverse conditions for Florida’s pari-mutuels and poker rooms has already generated one lawsuit. In July, West Flagler Associates sued the state and the Seminole Tribe over the compact’s alleged IGRA violations. West Flagler operates Bonita Springs Poker Room and Magic City Casino near Miami. According to Florida gaming attorney Daniel Wallach, West Flagler will add the DOI as another defendant.

Wallach wrote on Twitter that the West Flagler case will have company in the coming days. Potential plaintiffs include Florida’s “No Casinos” lobbying group and would-be rival sports-betting stakeholders DraftKings and FanDuel:

Wallach noted that simply filing the lawsuits won’t stop the Florida-Seminole compact from moving toward implementation. As he noted, the aggrieved parties must file for temporary restraining orders (TROs), and seek preliminary junctions against the compact’s parties. Such an injunction would bar the state and Tribe from implementing the compact until the matter is decided in court.

“(The) Tribe and State will argue that all entities (even pari-mutuels – ha!) lack of standing to sue,” Wallach added. “They will lose on all or most of those arguments. The coming week “will be a whirlwind,” he added.

Featured image source: Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood