1 Down, 2 To Go: Judge Tosses Out First Challenge Against Florida Gaming Compact

Written By John Holden on October 19, 2021
florida sports betting judge ruling

It may only be Oct. 19, but it may feel a lot like Christmas Eve for Florida sports bettors.

Late last night, Judge Allen Winsor, of the federal Northern District of Florida Court, filed a 20-page order of dismissal in the lawsuit filed by the West Flagler Associates against Gov. Ron DeSantis and Julie Imanuel Brown, the secretary of business and professional development.

The dismissal dulls one prong of the trident of lawsuits filed challenging the new Florida gaming compacts. While this is not the end, there remain two separate lawsuits in DC and an appeal likely.

However, the Seminole, the tribe’s Hard Rock partners and sports bettors across the Sunshine State, should be breathing a little easier this morning.

A quick review

The order of dismissal begins by noting the long history of the Seminole Tribe and the pari-mutuels’ dual existence in Florida. It notes the pari-mutuel’s main complaint is that the new Compact poses a threat to their business.

The plaintiffs, West Flagler Associates, moved for an injunction, arguing that the newly minted Compact violates federal law and was an ultra vires (outside of his powers) act by the governor. After the plaintiffs asked for an injunction, DeSantis and Brown moved to have the case dismissed.

The Seminole Tribe, who was not a named party, sought to intervene in the case. After the Seminole Tribe moved to intervene (on a limited basis), the plaintiffs moved for an expedited timeline and summary judgment.

This brings us to docket entry 41, the order of dismissal.

A lack of standing

Winsor stated:

“I now find that the pari-mutuels lack standing to sue either defendant, so I grant the State Officials’ Motion to Dismiss. That moots all other motions.”

The defendants challenged the plaintiffs’ ability to bring this lawsuit by arguing that they had not sufficiently shown that they would suffer harm due to the new Compact’s approval.

A point of agreement

Winsor notes that the plaintiffs generally do not take issue with the governor’s ability to enter into gaming compacts. Nor do the plaintiffs even appear to object to the governor’s power to authorize the plaintiffs to accept sports wagers while patrons are on tribal land.

The agreement, however, breaks down when it comes to allowing wagering off of tribal land.

One path and one path only

The pari-mutuels have but one choice if they would like to offer sports betting in Florida; by partnering with the Seminole Tribe. The plaintiffs have argued that being restricted to only offering sports betting through a tribal partnership will be economically consequential.

Stand by me

To bring a lawsuit, a plaintiff must first establish that they have standing.

In a federal case of this nature, we refer to Article III (of the Constitution) standing. Article III requires that a plaintiff satisfy three elements or see their case dismissed:

  1. An injury
  2. Traceable to the actions of the defendant
  3. The injury is redressable by a favorable decision

If a plaintiff fails to show a single element, their case is done.

Are you really hurt?

The plaintiffs alleged that the new Compact would economically harm them.

Their argument effectively centered on, with new options, particularly mobile sports betting, gamblers will choose the Seminole Tribe’s products over the products being offered by the plaintiffs.

Judge Winsor acknowledges that it is feasible that the plaintiffs will suffer some loss due to new options being available to the Seminole Tribe (and their partners).

But, that is not enough.

Winsor notes that the mere enactment of the legislation is not sufficient, short of enforcement. Much of the judge’s focus is on the lack of traceability of injury to the governor. It centers on the fact that, in many instances, it is not actually the governor’s duty but instead falls to the state itself.

The secretary did not hurt them either

Like the problems with traceability to the governor, Judge Winsor finds that the plaintiffs’ efforts to trace their injuries to Secretary Brown fail.

In finding that the injuries alleged cannot be traced to the secretary, Judge Winsor stated:

At the end of the day, the pari-mutuels are not harmed by the secretary’s ability to monitor the tribe’s casinos or submit audit reports to the state. “The plaintiffs’ real problem” is with “[the Compact] itself—its existence — and the economic consequences that its passage … will visit on their businesses.

Prong 3 is a problem, too

The plaintiffs’ standing deficiencies extend beyond traceability for Winsor, however.

The federal judge noted that the plaintiffs have problems with redressability as well. Winsor notes that the plaintiffs’ relief would not solve the plaintiffs’ claims because even a favorable judgment would not bind the tribe even if it were to bind the state.

Stopping a train in motion

Winsor also highlights that the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction stopping the governor from “implementing” the Compact is not something that can be done. As the plaintiffs acknowledge, the Compact was effective upon the signature of the governor.

DeSantis has no ongoing role in the ongoing implementation.

Winsor concluded:

“The pari-mutuels lack standing to sue the governor or the secretary because their actions are not fairly traceable to any alleged harm. In addition, the requested declaratory and injunctive relief would provide no legal or practical redress to the pari-mutuels’ injuries.”

Florida gaming challenges to be challenged

This win is significant for those hoping to bet on sports in Florida soon. However, there are further challenges ahead.

First, the West Flagler Associates group will likely appeal this decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Second, two DC-based lawsuits against the Department of the Interior (and secretary Deb Haaland) are on the calendar for Nov. 5.

Finally, as Winsor noted in his dismissal, the plaintiffs have raised some interesting constitutional questions that are beyond the jurisdiction of a federal court. However, we could still see a lawsuit filed in state court challenging the Compact under the Florida Constitution.

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John Holden

John Holden is an Ottawa native raised in Oakville. Holding a J.D. / Ph.D., Holden is an academic at heart. For PlayFL, Holden will focus mostly on the legal developments in the current battle over Florida sports betting.

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