Sports Betting In Florida Hinges On Two Lawsuits Filed In Effort To Block Rollout

Written By John Holden on September 28, 2021

This month, sports betting in Florida is a topic of focus.

West Flagler Associates’ latest filing against Gov. Ron DeSantis and Julie Imanuel Brown awaits resolution. Brown is the secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. West Flagler Associates previously filed a suit in the Northern District of Florida.

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, the plaintiffs reached a quiet agreement in a second lawsuit against the Department of the Interior. However, the parties did not settle the matter. Instead, they reached a deal on a timeline for proceeding.

Is the joint motion a sign that the sides will agree?

The lawyers from West Flagler Associates filed a joint motion to set a timeline for upcoming motions in the District of Columbia-based case. The Department of the Interior and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland are the defendants in the suit.

The goal, according to the joint motion, is:

“to propose a schedule for the Parties to present to the Court the purely legal issues in this case in a time frame that will allow for a decision on those issues by or before November 15, 2021 — which is the date that Plaintiffs contend that the relevant provisions of the tribal state compact at issue in this case are scheduled to be implemented.”

Background on the suits filed to stop sports betting legalization

As you may recall, West Flagler Associates filed two lawsuits against the State of Florida and Seminole Tribe of Florida. A new compact slated to bring mobile wagering to the Sunshine State is the subject of the suit.

West Flagler Associates recently responded to the governor’s motion to dismiss the Florida-based lawsuit. In addition, West Flagler Associates filed an opposition to the Seminole Tribe’s efforts to intervene in the suit.

The DC-based lawsuit alleges that, in her official capacity, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and the Department of the Interior acted ultra vires (outside of their powers) in allowing the compact to come into law. The Department of the Interior has a 45-day window to review compacts. By allowing that window to lapse without review, they became law by default.

The joint motion notes that the complaint in DC is brought under the Federal Administrative Procedure Act, as well as the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection doctrine. The plaintiffs further argued that the Secretary’s decision to allow the 45-day window to lapse and the compact to come into effect was “was contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious, and ultra vires.” The premise of the claim is that the defendants had an obligation to act pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) to stop Florida and the Seminole Tribe’s compact from coming into force.

The South Florida gaming operators further argued that the compact is problematic, not only because of IGRA but under the Wire Act, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, and the equal protection guarantee found in the Fifth Amendment.

Would sports betting in Florida cause irreparable injury to the plaintiffs?

West Flagler Associates claims that Florida sports betting will irreparably harm them if permitted to operate. Therefore, they ask the Federal Court in DC to rule on their forthcoming motion before November 15, 2021, to prevent harm.

What is the significance of the Nov. 15 date?

Footnote 2 of the joint motion states:

“Plaintiffs currently expect the Tribe to begin operating online sports betting pursuant to the Compact on November 15, 2021 based on representations Plaintiffs received from a representative of the Tribe.”

The new date creates a one-month delay from the widely cited Oct. 15, 2021, deadline. Despite the footnote in the DC filing, at the time of writing, there has been no public announcement from the Seminole Tribe that they are postponing the Oct. 15 launch.

Dates to watch

The schedule that the parties have agreed to is as follows:

Sept. 21, 2021 — Plaintiffs will file their motion for summary judgment, motion for a preliminary injunction, or both.

Oct. 12, 2021 — Defendants will file their response to the Plaintiffs’ motion and any cross-motions.

Oct. 19, 2021 — Plaintiffs file their reply brief to support their motions and necessary response briefs.

Oct. 26, 2021 — Defendants file their reply briefs in support of any cross-motions.

And then what?

The parties ask that the DC court schedule a motions hearing between Oct. 26 and Nov. 15, 2021.

What’s to come?

The agreed-upon briefing schedule puts West Flagler Associates in a position to have both lawsuits coming to a head at the same time. Currently, the Florida hearings will precede activity with the DC-based suit. As a result, October will be a busy month for everybody involved.

Another potential question still hangs out there — what is the No Casinos group going to do? In May, John Sowinski, President of No Casinos, told the Florida Phoenix that lawyers were interviewing with the group. No Casinos does not have any lawsuits pending.

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