West Flagler Finally Makes Its Case In Florida Sports Betting Appeal

Written By Steve Schult on October 7, 2022
West Flagler Florida Sports Betting

For the first time in the appeals process of the Florida sports betting lawsuit, the plaintiffs are making their case.

West Flagler Associates, the ownership group of two Florida pari-mutuels, filed its first brief with the D.C. Court of Appeals.

The legal team for the company filed a 110-page answering brief Thursday. The filing argued against the Department of the Interior’s claim that District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich erred in her decision to invalidate the 2021 Florida gaming compact, as well as the Seminole Tribe’s motion to intervene in the case.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the tribe agreed on the terms of the compact in May 2021. The deal would allow a massive gaming expansion in Florida. But most notably, it would legalize retail and online sports betting in Florida.

West Flagler filed suit shortly afterward, claiming that the ‘hub-and-spoke’ model used for Florida sports betting violated federal standards. Under the model, the tribe gained exclusivity over the online betting market. Furthermore, the tribe would receive 40% of gross revenue from any pari-mutuel opening a retail operation.

A look at West Flagler’s arguments

Unlike previous filings in the case, West Flagler is arguing that Friedrich’s ruling should stand. Friedrich stated Florida sports betting violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act because the compact allowed residents to place bets with a tribal entity anywhere in the state.

The IGRA mandates that bettors are located on tribal property when placing the wager.

Their case against the DOI’s appeal

The federal government argued the Florida gaming compact was consistent with the IGRA. West Flagler poked holes in both the claim and how the feds argued the point. According to the first section of their argument:

“Neither the Interior nor any of the amici argue that IGRA should accept the artifice of the Deeming Provisions – i.e., they do not argue that the wagers the Compact permits from off Indian lands should be treated as if they were placed on Indian lands ‘for the purposes of IGRA.’ Thus, all have abandoned the original effort to fit the Compact’s statewide, off-Indian lands, online sports betting provisions within IGRA’s ‘on Indian lands’ requirement. This effectively concedes that the transparent ruse at the heart of the Compact fails, and the District Court’s decision should be affirmed.”

In the “Statement of the Case” section, West Flagler cites the Florida Constitution as one of the reasons the compact was illegal. They double down on that in their argument.

“They want the Court to ‘read’ the Compact as if it says that the provisions allowing online gaming from off Indian lands are authorized by state law, and do not need authorization under IGRA. The Compact says the opposite. So do the statements made by the Compact parties in seeking approval from the Florida legislature and from the Secretary. The record leaves zero doubt that the Compact was intended to obtain IGRA authorization for betting it permits from off Indian lands.”

West Flagler wraps up its argument against the DOI by claiming the compact also violates the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act and the Wire Act.

West Flagler’s case against the Seminole Tribe’s motion to intervene

The Seminoles want to be deemed an indispensable party to the case. Thus, the tribe filed a motion to intervene.

If the court grants the motion, the tribe can file a motion to dismiss on sovereign immunity grounds. Most legal experts believe that the tribe’s dismissal would be successful. Therefore, it’s paramount for West Flagler to keep the tribe out of the case.

West Flagler cited De Cespel v Republic of Hungary to argue that a suit can proceed without the tribe if a “party with interests aligned” is still involved in the case.

In their filing, the Seminoles argued that the government didn’t adequately represent their interests. West Flagler stated otherwise and like with their argument against the DOI, critiqued how it was argued.

“Here, the Tribe and the Interior had one and the same interest – to defend the legality of the Secretary’s decision approving the Compact. The Tribe barely contests the District Court’s conclusions that all of the other Rule 19(b) factors favored letting the case go forward.”

West Flagler goes for the throat

Not only does West Flagler argue that the District Court ruling should stand, they also claim that DOI Secretary Deb Haaland had a duty to disapprove the compact based on IGRA standards.

“IGRA does not authorize the Secretary to approve a compact that purports to authorize gaming off Indian Lands.”

This government contests this point. But once again, West Flagler critiqued the government’s argument in a quite damning manner.

“On the appeal, Interior advances this puzzling proposition: ‘Gaming outside Indian lands cannot be authorized by IGRA, but it may be addressed in a compact.’ This concedes the District Court’s holding was correct, yet seeks to circumvent it.”

How effective is West Flagler’s brief?

West Flagler’s arguments are easy to follow and well-structured. As a layperson, I didn’t have much trouble grasping them. But that doesn’t mean a ton coming from someone who never set foot in law school.

However, in a column for Legal Sports Report, John Holden called the brief “powerful.” Holden is an associate professor at Oklahoma State University and graduated from Michigan State Law School in 2010.

Based on Holden’s words, the brief dealt a blow to the tribe’s and DOI’s chances of overturning the decision.

West Flagler will file an amicus brief next Thursday. The Seminole Tribe and the federal government will file reply briefs on Nov. 14.

Photo by Shutterstock.com
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Steve Schult

As Managing Editor of PlayFL, Steve will stay on top of all things related to the Florida gaming industry. He is also a veteran of the gambling world. The native New Yorker started covering high-stakes tournaments in 2009 for some of poker's most prominent media outlets before adding the broader U.S. gaming market to his beat in 2018.

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