Credit: CD Davidson-Hiers
No Casinos and a group of south Florida businessmen have joined the legal fight to defend a district court ruling striking down the 30-year gambling compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the State of Florida.
The Seminole Tribe is appealing the ruling and seeks an immediate stay, which would allow it to legally continue the first-in-Florida sports betting operations it launched on Nov. 1. The compact also authorized the tribe to build new casinos on its property and to offer games such as craps and roulette that were previously illegal in Florida.
Near noon Wednesday, lawyers for the tribe filed a brief for the appellate court to refute its critics’ arguments. Its key point in the brief is that if it has to terminate its sports-betting operation and other gambling expansions authorized in the compact, it will lose money and jobs and so will Floridians.
“Without a stay, the tribe will suffer injury to its sovereignty, and hundreds of tribal and vendor jobs related to sports betting, craps, and roulette will be lost, hurting hundreds of Floridians and their families,” the tribe’s brief says. “Further, tens of millions of dollars in investments will be jeopardized, and the people of Florida will lose nearly $40 million per month in tribal payments.” Payments to the State of Florida — guaranteed at $2.5 billion over the first five years of the 30-year agreement — were arranged in the gambling compact approved by state lawmakers in the spring and struck down last week in U.S. district court.
The tribe also argues that the U.S. Department of Interior that gave tacit approval to the gambling compact in August without actually granting approval did not sufficiently defend the tribe’s interests when defending the compact in court.
“Federal defendants’ litigation strategy and arguments (or lack thereof) demonstrate at a practical level that they do not adequately represent the tribe,” says the tribe’s brief. “Perhaps the starkest evidence is the District Court’s significant and outward frustration with federal defendants’ litigation strategy. The District Court said during the motions hearing that it was ‘confounded’ by federal defendants’ litigation position that they did not need to address the merits arguments.”
No Casinos, a nonprofit, anti-gambling organization, Monterra MF, LLC, a Broward County business, and businessmen Armando Codina, James Carr and Norman Braman, who say gambling near their businesses will degrade and devalue their properties, filed as amici curiae late Tuesday to oppose the tribe’s request for a stay.
They join two south Florida pari-mutuel facilities in opposing the issuance of an emergency stay, for dissimilar reasons. No Casinos, Monterra, Codina, Carr and Braman would like to keep sports betting illegal, while the pari-mutuels want to see it legalized so they may participate in it, free of the monopoly granted to the tribe in the compact.
“The gambling interests [the pari-mutuels] support gambling expansion so long as they are allowed to enjoy it alongside the Seminole Tribe. The gambling opponents [No Casinos and its allies] oppose the expansion of gambling in the State, consistent with the Florida Constitution, even if it occurs on tribal lands,” says the brief filed by No Casinos and its allies.
Both groups sued U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, whose department oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which allowed the compact to proceed in August without actually approving it. The groups contend the compact violates Indian gaming regulations. District of Columbia District Judge Dabney Friedrich agreed and vacated the compact on Nov. 22.
The Seminole Tribe was not a party to the lawsuit, though it tried to join as an intervenor, claiming sovereign immunity in a way that could have invalidated the litigation, according to court records. Instead, attorneys for the Department of Interior defended the compact.
John Sowsinki, president of No Casinos, told the Phoenix in a statement provided Tuesday that the tribe should immediately stop its sports-betting operations, which he considers “illegal gambling.” He noted the tribe chose to launch Florida’s first-ever statewide sports betting operation on Nov. 1 despite pending litigation and has not halted it despite Judge Friedrich’s order. The tribe argued Wednesday in its brief that it is not a party to the lawsuits against Haaland and not is directly governed by the judge’s order but by the authority granted to it when he Florida Legislature ratified the compact in May.
No Casinos, Monterra, Codina, Carr and Braman want sports betting and other gambling expansions authorized in the gambling compact to be shut down permanently – except as may be authorized in the future by Florida voters, as required by the 2018 constitutional amendment titled “Voter Control of Gambling,” then known as Amendment 3.
The amici brief they filed late Tuesday urges the appellate court to affirm the district court’s order striking down the compact and to deny the tribe’s request for a stay in the interim.
“A stay would substantially injure the gambling opponents and similarly situated interested parties by allowing widespread, unlawful forms of gambling in close proximity to their business interests,” the amici brief says.
Further, it argues the compact itself and the tribe’s gambling expansions violate the will and public interest of Florida voters who adopted the control-of-gambling constitutional amendment in 2018.
“In substance, the Seminole Tribe argues that the public interest is of no consequence, even where an agreement to expand gambling [in the disputed compact] is plainly violative of Florida law that gives voters the exclusive right to approve or reject the expansion of gambling,” the brief says. “A stay would effectively allow the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe to circumvent that constitutional requirement to the detriment of the Gambling Opponents and many others.”
The Washington, D.C., district judge struck down the compact on Nov. 22, ruling that it violates federal Indian gaming laws. The tribe, continuing to accept sports bets, filed for a stay of that order, which Friedrich denied, and filed notice it would appeal to a three-judge appellate panel, where it has again requested a stay.
The two pari-mutuel facilities that prevailed in having the compact deemed unlawful also want the appellate court to deny the tribe a stay and to affirm Judge Friedrich’s ruling. They are Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room, which under the compact would not be able to participate in future sports betting unless permitted to do so under the auspices of the Seminole Tribe’s 30-year monopoly.
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