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DeSantis Administration Takes Aim at Florida Sports Betting Lawsuit


TALLAHASSEE --- Allied with the Seminole Tribe, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration says a federal judge should dismiss a lawsuit challenging a new gambling deal that will allow the tribe to operate sports betting in Florida.

Attorneys for DeSantis and state Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Julie Brown argued in a 33-page motion Tuesday that the lawsuit filed by two pari-mutuel facilities should be tossed out. The motion came on the same day that attorneys for the tribe filed court documents seeking dismissal of the case.

Owners of the pari-mutuels Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida filed the lawsuit in July, after state lawmakers approved a wide-ranging gambling deal between the state and tribe.

Part of the deal, known as a compact, will allow the tribe to operate sports betting, with gamblers throughout the state able to place bets online.The pari-mutuels contend that allowing people to place sports bets while off tribal property violates federal laws.

DeSantis administration attorneys raised a series of arguments in the motion Tuesday, including that the pari-mutuels do not have legal standing to challenge the compact because they have not shown that they would be harmed.

Under the deal, sports bets would be run through servers on tribal property, and the tribe would contract with pari-mutuels to help market sports betting. DeSantis administration attorneys pointed to such arrangements, which would lead to pari-mutuels getting a cut of the money.

“To satisfy the fundamental requirements of standing, plaintiffs must allege a concrete and particularized injury caused by the defendants --- one which affects each plaintiff in an individual way and which is real, and not abstract, hypothetical, or speculative,” the motion to dismiss said. “Plaintiffs acknowledge that they have the option to participate in the online sports betting component by marketing the tribe’s sportsbook and receiving 60 percent of the profit.”

But in an amended version of the lawsuit filed in August, the pari-mutuels said they have competed for years against the tribe for customers who play slot machines and card games.

“The 2021 compact will significantly harm plaintiffs’ businesses by introducing online gaming into Florida and granting the tribe the exclusive right to engage in it,” the lawsuit said. “As a result, anyone physically located in Florida, including plaintiffs’ customers, will be able to engage in sports betting online with the tribe from their home or from any Florida location where they have access to an internet connection. This approval will therefore have a significant and potentially devastating competitive impact on plaintiffs and the brick-and-mortar businesses who depend for their profits on individuals coming into their businesses to engage in gaming activities.”

DeSantis administration attorneys also echoed arguments raised Tuesday in documents filed by the tribe. The Seminoles, who were not named as defendants, contend the case should be dismissed because they are an “indispensable party.” Also, in arguing for dismissal, the tribe cited a right to sovereign immunity that helps shield it from lawsuits.

DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. announced the deal in April, and state lawmakers held a special session in May to approve it. Sports betting has been illegal in the past in Florida, but numerous states have approved such wagering after a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared the way for it.

Under the 30-year deal, the Seminoles agreed to pay Florida about $20 billion, including $2.5 billion over the first five years. Along with allowing the tribe to operate sports betting, the compact gives the Seminoles such perks as offering roulette and craps at their casinos.

The lawsuit, which has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, alleges that the sports-betting portion of the compact violates federal laws, including the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, because bets would be placed by people off tribal lands.

“The IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) restricts tribal gaming to ‘Indian lands,’ which are either Indian reservations or lands held in trust by the United States for the benefit of a federally recognized Indian tribe,” the lawsuit said. “Importantly, the IGRA does not authorize tribal gaming outside of Indian lands (unless there is an applicable exception). No exception applies here.”

But the DeSantis administration attorneys disputed that interpretation of the federal law.

“The main substantive flaw in the complaint is plaintiffs’ contention that gaming activities are strictly bifurcated into what Indian tribes may do on Indian lands and what ‘private entities’ may do on non-Indian lands, with no cross-over between them,” Tuesday’s motion to dismiss said. “In other words, plaintiffs contend that Indian tribes are never permitted to offer gaming activities to patrons who are physically located off their Indian lands. This is not so.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees tribal gambling, signed off on the Florida compact in August. The owners of Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room have filed a separate lawsuit in Washington, D.C., against the federal agency and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

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