A federal judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit against the Florida-Seminole compact could set a damaging precedent for two other lawsuits against the compact in Washington, D.C.
In a 20-page opinion released on Monday, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor ruled two Miami pari-mutuel companies in Miami — West Flagler Associates, Ltd. and Magic City Casino — do not have legal standing to challenge the compact.
The pari-mutuels lack standing because the actions of the defendants they sued — Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — “are not fairly traceable to any alleged harm,” Winsor wrote.
The pari-mutuels claim the Seminole compact will cost them money by allowing the tribe to accept mobile bets from all over the state on computer servers located on Seminole land.
The judge disagreed, concluding the dismantling of the Seminole compact “would provide no legal or practical redress to the parimutuels’ injuries.”
Winsor, 45, is a judge for the U.S. Northern District of Florida in the state capital of Tallahassee.
Nominated by President Donald Trump in 2018, Winsor received a 52-44 vote of confirmation from the U.S. Senate on June 21, 2019.
Since 2005, Winsor has been a member of the Federalist Society, an organization of conservatives and libertarians who advocate a textualist and original interpretation of the United States Constitution.
Winsor’s ruling is likely to undercut a second lawsuit by West Flagler Associates, Ltd. and Magic City Casino in Washington, D.C.
The pari-mutuels’ lawsuit in the nation’s capital is scheduled for a hearing before federal circuit court on November 5, but it is unclear if the lawsuit will be pursued after Judge Winsor’s ruling on Monday in the Northern District of Florida.
Izzy Havenick, partner and vice president of Magic City Casino, declined to comment on Monday’s ruling in an email to VIXIO GamblingCompliance on Tuesday.
Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the Seminole Tribe, said: “This is 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.”
Last week, before Judge Winsor’s ruling, the Interior Department asked the federal court in Washington, D.C. to consolidate the pari-mutuels' two lawsuits into one case in Florida.
A third lawsuit, also pending in federal court in Washington D.C., is an effort by a Florida anti-gambling coalition to derail the Seminole compact.
The coalition includes No Casinos, former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman of Miami and Miami real estate tycoon Armando Codina.
An attorney who represents Codina said Winsor’s ruling will not have any impact on the coalition’s lawsuit against the Seminole compact.
“When you read [Judge Winsor’s] order, you will see why we did not sue in the Northern District of Florida against those defendants,” Grace Mead, an attorney with the Stearns Weaver Miller firm of Miami, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance in an email.
“Our D.C. lawsuit is a study in contrasts: we have the right plaintiffs, the right defendants, and the right claims in the right court,” Mead said.
If the anti-gambling coalition prevails in its lawsuit, the Seminole compact would no longer be in effect, according to Mead.
“And the Department of Interior has not and cannot explain how its decision is consistent with federal law or the incorporated ban on expanding casino gambling without voter approval in the Florida Constitution,” Mead said.
“We look forward to press forward with our case.”
Bob Jarvis, a professor of gaming law at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, said the No Casinos lawsuit will be easier to dismiss than the pari-mutuels’ lawsuit was.
“It would be better all around if the plaintiffs would give up the ghost and learn to live with the compact’s terms,” Jarvis said.
“But since they won’t, the courts are doing it for them. At least some lawyer is making money off the plaintiffs, so somebody is getting something out of these lawsuits.”
The issue of legal standing could prove to be as big a problem for the No Casinos lawsuit as it was for the pari-mutuels, according to Kathryn Rand, an Indian gaming scholar who teaches at the University of North Dakota School of Law.
“While the issues will not be exactly the same in the No Casinos lawsuit, the court’s decision highlights the point I made before: the big question in these suits will be whether the plaintiffs have the legal right to challenge the compact,” Rand said.
“That will be a major legal hurdle for any suit to move forward.”