Pari-mutuels ask courts to strike sports betting from FL gambling compact with Seminole Tribe

By: - September 27, 2021 7:03 pm

Sportsbook in Las Vegas. Credit: Baishampayan Ghose, Wikipedia Commons

Two Florida pari-mutuel facilities fighting the anticipated launch of legalized sports betting statewide have raised the stakes by asking a federal judge to strike sports-betting provisions altogether from the state’s new gambling compact.

In U.S. District Court in Tallahassee Friday, Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room, two south Florida pari-mutuel facilities, asked the court to issue a summary judgment in their favor by finding that the sports-betting provisions of the compact are unlawful under state and federal laws.

In court filings Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Julie Imanuel Brown, the targets of the lawsuit, defended the compact, arguing the arrangements authorizing sports betting are lawful and should neither be struck down or delayed by injunction.

When the Florida Legislature ratified the compact in mid-May, it ordered that sports betting could begin no sooner than Oct. 15. The pari-mutuels initially sought an injunction to put the launch on hold, but now it wants the provisions severed from the compact altogether.

The Seminole Tribe has intervened in the lawsuits to help defend the compact and its provisions for online sports betting statewide.

Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner said the tribe never announced a launch date and was never obligated to launch on Oct. 15.

“The Seminole Tribe has always said sports betting would begin ‘in the fall,'” Bitner wrote on Monday.

The pari-mutuels’ lawsuit against the state and another they filed against the U.S. Department of Interior, which regulates Indian gaming nationwide, challenge the legality of authorizing the Seminole Tribe to operate online sports betting statewide via servers on its tribal land. They contend it violates a Florida constitutional amendment barring gambling except as approved statewide by voters and violates federal laws in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

“Because the [online sports betting] provisions are unauthorized or illegal, they are automatically severed from the Compact ratified under the Implementing Law, and the Court should permanently enjoin Defendants from implementing or enforcing such provisions,” argue the lawyers for the pari-mutuels in their filing Friday.

DeSantis and Brown responded in filings Monday that the pari-mutuels have no right to describe the imminent start of sports betting, outlined in mid-May, as some kind of emergency in which the courts should intervene.

“More than five months after the Compact was executed, Plaintiffs assert for the first time that the long-ago scheduled commencement of online sports betting necessitates emergency treatment of their ‘motion for final summary judgment or, in the alternative, for preliminary injunction,” their lawyers wrote. “Yet they waited until July to institute this action, and waited until mid-September to suggest for the first time that this case warrants expedited treatment.”

A hearing in the case against the Department of Interior, which gave the compact a green light in August,  is set for Nov. 5 in a U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

In practical terms, the pari-mutuels object to provisions of the compact that grant the Seminole Tribe a monopoly over sports betting for the 30-year life of the compact. The tribe can partner with pari-mutuel facilities to conduct sports betting, but it is not required to do so.

Magic City and Bonita Springs Poker Room argue they could be cut out of future sports betting, with no recourse, if the Seminoles have that unilateral authority.

Instead, they are aligned with an effort to establish sports betting statewide, regardless of the compact or the tribe, by persuading Florida voters to legalize it by constitutional amendment in 2022. DraftKings and FanDuel, titans in the international sports-betting industry, contributed $20 million to the campaign to pass that amendment in Florida.

Gov. DeSantis and Seminole Tribal Council Chairman Marcellus Osceola negotiated the 30-year gambling compact in April. The Florida Legislature ratified it with modifications in special session in mid-May.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]