Plaintiff In Florida Sports Betting Lawsuit Wants To Sell Miami Casino To Alabama Tribe

Written By Steve Schult on December 2, 2022
West Flagler wants to sell Magic City Casino

The ownership group of the two Florida pari-mutuels that started the legal battle against the state’s sports betting model is looking to offload their Miami property to a Native American tribe from Alabama.

West Flagler Associates, the plaintiff in the Florida sports betting lawsuit, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians agreed to terms on the sale of Magic City Casino. Wind Creek Miami, LLC, a corporate entity of the Alabama tribe, will take complete control of the business.

This includes both a 100% ownership stake and the assets of the business. Most notably, the assets include transferring Magic City’s pari-mutuel license. Wind Creek is set to pay an undisclosed price for the business.

Gaming Commission: ‘Not so fast’

However, the Florida Gaming Control Commission delayed a decision on the deal. The state’s new regulatory agency cited the application’s more than 100 redacted pages for the result.

The financing of the agreement and the actual price of the sale were among the missing details.

“If there was an over-redaction of materials… it would be inappropriate to take action at this time,” said Commission Chairman John MacIver.

Until the board approves the application to transfer pari-mutuel permit 155, the deal remains in limbo. Yet, the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering recommended the board approve the application.

“Upon review of the Application, it appears that all necessary requirements have been met,” wrote program director Jamie Pouncey in the memorandum. “Therefore, the Commission should approve the Application.”

Seminole Tribe raises other legal concerns

Marc Dunbar, an attorney representing the Seminole Tribe of Florida, petitioned the FGCC to block the license transfer.

At the FGCC meeting Thursday morning, Dunbar said existing laws should stop the commission from approving the deal. Dunbar said state law prohibits slot machine licenses from being transferred from one owner to another. Magic City’s pari-mutuel license allows for slot machines at their property.

He added that despite this, these licenses change hands frequently. Dunbar’s objection has plenty of merit, but it’s hard to ignore the contentious relationship between the tribe and West Flagler.

How would this affect the Florida sports betting lawsuit?

West Flagler was the first of two entities to file suit against the 2021 Florida gaming compact. They claimed the ‘hub-and-spoke’ model in the deal violated federal law.

The model would give the Seminole Tribe a near-monopoly on the industry. They would have exclusivity over the online betting market. Furthermore, any pari-mutuel facility interested in a retail sportsbook could only do so as a contracted vendor of the Seminoles.

Despite pending litigation, the Seminoles launched online sports betting at the start of November 2021. But at the end of the month, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court ruled in West Flagler’s favor.

Judge Dabney Friedrich said the model violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The IGRA mandates bettors be on tribal land when wagering with a federally recognized tribe. But since Floridians could bet from anywhere in the state on the Seminoles’ online sportsbook, Friedrich argued the IGRA was violated.

As a result, she invalidated the compact and shuttered the new industry. The appeals process is already underway and oral arguments are scheduled for Dec. 14.

Aside from Magic City, West Flagler also owns Bonita Springs Poker Room. Therefore, it’s unlikely the legal battle will stop since the Havenick family-owned company still has a financial stake in the industry.

If Magic City Casino was their only property in Florida, West Flagler would probably wave the white flag at the end of the current appeal.

Could the ownership switch affect Battle Court?

Magic City Casino single-handedly rejuvenated Florida’s jai-alai scene. As jai-alai frontons were closing throughout the state, Magic City launched the state’s first professional league earlier this year.

Executives named the league Battle Court and the game featured minor changes from its pari-mutuel counterpart.

Jai-alai and horse racing are the only two sports Floridians can legally bet on under the current legal landscape. But since Magic City slightly altered the rules, the league didn’t comply with standards set by the Division of Pari-Mutuel wagering. In essence, it was a different game.

However, the league landed a partnership with Rush Street Gaming. Consequently, gamblers in any state where BetRivers is available can watch and bet on the league.

Magic City COO Scott Savin spearheaded the league. But a change in ownership could end the league if Wind Creek doesn’t feel it’s worth running.

Wind Creek declined to comment on any possible changes.

“We continue to move forward with the purchase,” the company said in a statement to PlayFL. “Out of deference to the Commission, Wind Creek Hospitality will have no further comment about this transaction at this time.”

If the deal goes through, this would be Wind Creek’s third gaming entity in the Sunshine State. The company already owns pari-mutuels in Pensacola and Gretna.

Photo by AP / Wilfredo Lee
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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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