Strike One: Federal Judge Tosses First of Three Lawsuits Challenging Florida Sports Betting

  • Gov. DeSantis signed a gaming compact in April giving Seminoles a monopoly over sports betting
  • Plaintiffs alleged “their potential casino patrons will take their gambling dollars” to the Seminoles
  • There are still two remaining legal challenges against sports betting in Florida
Seminole Hard Rock guitar hotel
Round one goes in favor of state and tribe after a federal judge dismissed the first of three lawsuits aimed at stopping the progression of sports betting in Florida. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Lawsuit dismissed

US District Court Judge Allen Winsor has dismissed the first of three lawsuits aimed at stopping Florida sports betting from progressing under the control of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

On October 18, Judge Winsor tossed the lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over the gaming compact signed this spring that gave the Seminoles a monopoly over sports betting.

Lawyer Darren Heitner said via Twitter that the governor “scored a win” against the two suing casinos.

The judge said the parimutuel plaintiffs challenging the updated compact — West Flagler Associates Ltd.-owned Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Miami — did not have standing to sue the state. In a 20-page document, Judge Winsor ruled the plaintiffs had no standing because they could not demonstrate that DeSantis’ actions were damaging to the parimutuels.

The suit filed in July by the Havernick family-owned West Flagler Associates named both the governor and Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) secretary Julie Brown as defendants.

Seminole Tribe spokesperson Gary Bitner said the outcome represented “an important first legal victory for the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe and we look forward to future legal decisions in our favor.”

Alleged loss of revenue

The plaintiffs contended that the mobile sports wagering section of the updated compact violates federal laws, alleging it illegally gave the green light to off-reservation sports wagering. West Flagler’s lawsuit filed in July contends that offering Florida-wide online sports wagering via servers located on tribal lands does not equate to physically betting on tribal lands. 

Judge Winsor’s document states that the plaintiffs allege “that they will lose revenue because their potential casino patrons will take their gambling dollars” to the Seminoles.

Sports betting attorney Daniel Wallach took to Twitter citing the Florida federal court’s ruling that the “alleged harm is not traceable to nor redressable by the State.”

According to the Miami Herald, Judge Winsor added that the state, and specifically the DBPR secretary, do not have the authority to enforce the conditions of the compact.

Winsor also pointed to the flaw in the remedy the parimutuels are calling for, namely for DeSantis to stop the compact. “But even assuming a declaration against the Governor would bind the State, it would not bind the Tribe, which would have no obligation to recognize any declaration’s legal effect,’’ he wrote.

First round to state and tribe

Despite losing round one to state and tribe, the parimutuels still have another route to challenge the launch of online sports betting in Florida. In August, West Flagler filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., naming the US Department of the Interior (DOI) and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as defendants.

The remaining legal challenge to stop the Seminoles from rolling out sports betting comes from two South Florida business leaders who filed a separate lawsuit in D.C.

Wallach said West Flagler’s pending lawsuit in D.C. is more significant than the case tossed on Monday because it takes on the DOI. The attorney stressed this was important because “the federal courts in Washington, D.C., have recognized the standing of competitors to challenge federal agency approvals of tribal gaming compacts.”

the District Court for the District of Columbia has scheduled November 5 to hear oral arguments

The District Court for the District of Columbia has scheduled November 5 to hear oral arguments on both the West Flagler and businessmen-led cases.

According to the Herald, even though Florida law permits an October 15 launch date for tribal sports betting, the Seminoles are only planning on rolling it out later this year.