One side makes argument to be heard in appeals court as case surrounding tribal-state compact drags on
The wait for legal sports betting in Florida continues, with a case surrounding the legality of the Seminole-State of Florida compact in U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeing a new filing by a plaintiff Sunday. The fate of the compact, which last November was essentially deemed illegal by a U.S. District Court judge, still awaits final resolution.
Six months after District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich vacated the compact between the Florida Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida, the plaintiff, Monterra AF LLC, contended in Sunday’s filing that its case should be heard in appellate court, in large part because it is arguing for the right for voters to decide on an expansion of gambling.
The court earlier this year requested that Monterra explain why it had cause and suggested that it might dismiss the case.
Regardless of how the court rules on the motion, legal wagering is no sooner than months — or perhaps years — away in the Sunshine State. As the compact works its way through the court system, with some legal experts predicting the case could go to the Supreme Court, a voter referendum as the only other avenue for legalization won’t happen this year.
In late January, the political committee working with DraftKings and FanDuel to get an initiative on the 2022 ballot quit its efforts to collect enough signatures for verification. The operators have not said whether they will pursue another attempt for the 2024 ballot.
Today DraftKings CEO @JasonDRobins appeared on the @LeBatardShow today to discuss efforts to legalize sports betting in Florida. Florida voters can download or request a petition at https://t.co/8UiJmfyHc7 but time is running out!
Listen to the show: https://t.co/Ll4bk9Xq30
— DraftKings (@DraftKings) January 11, 2022
Plaintiffs have differing interests
With regard to Sunday’s filing, the Monterra AF LLC group is made up of business owners, property owners, and a nonprofit that all say they oppose an “illegal expansion of gambling.” Their case has been linked to a separate case filed by parimutuel owners West Flagler Associates and the Bonita Springs Card Room, though the Monterra appellees Sunday wrote that their interests are “starkly different.”
Though their interests are different, they have sought the same end game. They have wanted the courts to declare the compact illegal and require the Seminoles to shut down their digital platform, which is what occurred with the Hard Rock Digital sports betting platform late last year. The platform’s future is now uncertain, though the tribe could try other avenues to legalization, including its own voter referendum effort.
The two plaintiffs have maintained different grounds for going to court in the first place. West Flagler and the Bonita Springs Card Room sued because the compact limited their business prospects and essentially created a gaming monopoly for the Seminoles.
Lawyers for Monterra AF LLC wrote, meanwhile, that their main argument is that any expansion of gaming in Florida must be decided by the voters, but voters were never consulted on the tribe’s sports betting. Rather, the Seminoles and Gov. Ron DeSantis made a compact which was then approved by the state legislature and approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Cases were never consolidated
The two different plaintiff suits were decided last November in U.S. District Court by a single ruling, though they were never consolidated.
At that time, Friedrich ruled in both cases simultaneously. In her ruling, she wrote that the compact violates the terms of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, but she also wrote that the Monterra request for summary judgment was moot because “vacating the compact fully redresses” the Monterra group’s injuries.
Breaking: Online sports betting is done in Florida. Seminoles' new 30-year compact is vacated.
"Although Compact “deem[s]” all sports betting to occur at the location of the Tribe’s “sports book(s)” & supporting servers, this Court cannot accept that fiction."
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) November 23, 2021
At about the same time, Friedrich denied the Seminoles’ motion to intervene in the case and the DOI’s request to dismiss both lawsuits. But the decision to call Monterra’s case “moot” appears to leave some question as to whether the case can be appealed.
The lawyers for Monterra argue that because Friedrich “thoroughly disengaged” the district court from the case and there was finality from the district court, it can be appealed. They went on to write that the district court’s denial of the DOI motion to dismiss is reviewable, that the court does have jurisdiction, and that while vacating the compact effectively means the court found in Monterra’s favor, it has the right to defend the district court ruling as appeals are made.
Lawyers for Monterra wrote that while their clients and West Flagler Associates both believe the Seminole-Florida compact should be vacated, their reasons why are “diametrically opposed.” To recap, West Flagler Associates and the Bonita Springs Card Room sued the U.S. Department of the Interior last fall claiming that the DOI overstepped its bounds by approving the Seminole-Florida compact. The group owns multiple parimutuel facilities in Florida and argued that the compact would limit its gaming opportunities and harm its businesses.
The cases landed in appellate court in January when the DOI appealed Friedrich’s decision made at the district court level. Legal experts say appellate cases typically take six to 12 months to be decided, meaning it could well be January 2023 — or perhaps later — before the legality of the compact is decided.