Florida Parimutuel Operator Files Lawsuit to Block Mobile Sports Betting for Seminole Tribe

  • Southwest Parimutuels filed its lawsuit Friday, alleging the compact contravenes federal law
  • State lawmakers passed the deal by claiming mobile bets would take place on tribal land
  • The plaintiff claims the bet takes place “both where the bettor and casino are each located”
  • The compact has also received criticism for potentially opening the door to new casinos
A file with lawsuit label
Florida-based parimutuel operator Southwest Parimutuels has filed a lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis over a new tribal gaming compact which would allow the Seminole Tribe to offer mobile betting across the state. [Image:Shutterstock.com]

An expected legal challenge

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made history in May by approving a 30-year tribal gambling compact in the state. It gave the Seminole Tribe of Florida exclusive rights to offer online and retail sports betting. However, due to the controversial nature of that contract, lawmakers have been anticipating a legal challenge at some point down the line.

The 67-page complaint claims the mobile betting aspect to the compact violates federal law

The first of those legal challenges arrived on Friday through parimutuel gambling operator Southwest Parimutuels. The owner of the Miami-based Magic City Casino and the poker room Bonita-Fort Myers Corp filed a lawsuit against the governor in an attempt to block the gambling expansion. The 67-page complaint claims the mobile betting aspect to the compact violates federal law and is based on “legal fiction”.

The lawsuit points specifically to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which prohibits sports betting outside of tribal lands. DeSantis’s new compact would allow the Seminole tribe to offer sports betting across the entire state of Florida using mobile devices. The plaintiff has argued that it will “lose millions” in revenue because of the IGRA transgression.

Although the compact has received DeSantis’s signature, it is still awaiting approval from the US Department of Interior. The agency has a 45-day window to make a decision on the contract.

The tribal land argument

Notably, the Southwest Parimutuels lawsuit does not attempt to prevent the Seminole from offering sports betting altogether. It only seeks to block the inclusion of mobile wagering. This is because the plaintiff believes mobile betting would take place off-reservation, rather than on tribal lands.

Off-reservation sports betting is a contentious issue in Florida. In 2018, lawmakers passed an amendment to state law requiring voters to approve sports betting on the ballot box. However, betting backers have argued that the new tribal compact would only allow wagers to take place on the Seminole reservation, with all online bets processed through servers on tribal land.

This has allowed DeSantis to avoid a public vote on the issue, but it has not gone down well with opponents to the expansion. The Southwest Parimutuels complaint read: “‘Deeming’ the bet to have been placed on Indian lands because the servers are located there contradicts decades of well-established precedent interpreting applicable to federal law.” Contrasting with the compact’s ruling, the plaintiff argues that a bet is placed “both where the bettor and casino are each located.”

The lawsuit alleges that the deal violates three separate laws. These include the IGRA, which only allows gambling to occur on tribal lands, the Wire Act of 1961, which prohibits the use of interstate commerce for illegal transactions, and the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act, which bans unlicensed betting.

As reported by the Tampa Bay Times, Seminole Gaming spokesperson Gary Bitner has defended the compact in response to the suit. Citing recent polls in which Floridians have backed the deal, Bitner said the compact fully complies with the law and guarantees “$2.5bn in revenue sharing in its first five years.”

Who will come out on top?

When SB 4-A made it through the House in May, Florida lawmakers made clear that they were expecting a difficult legal battle over the legislation. Rep. Sam Garrison described the compact as “an open legal question,” and one that would ultimately go to court.

Meanwhile, Rep. Michael Grieco said it would be “intellectually dishonest” to claim the contract did not constitute a gambling expansion. Somewhat pessimistically, he argued that the legislation would eventually lose in court. “We’re going to lose, and we’re going to see this on the ballot,” the lawmaker commented.

could also open the door to new casinos in the state

It’s also not just the sports betting aspect of the bill which faces some opposition. The compact could also open the door to new casinos in the state. It includes a provision that prevents the Seminole from intervening if authorities issue a gambling license to any property located more than 15 miles from its Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Hollywood.

The city of Doral in Miami-Dade County took action in June to prevent the opening of a casino in light of the new compact. Officials banned gambling and casinos unless approved by residents in a referendum. Just months prior, Eric Trump, son of former US President Donald Trump, described his father’s Trump National Doral Miami golf resort as “a natural choice” for a gambling license.

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