Florida Anti-Gambling Coalition Sues Seminoles, Governor Over Compact

September 29, 2021
The lawsuit everyone has been waiting for finally arrived on Mondayh when a powerful coalition of anti-gambling interests in Florida asked a federal court in Washington, D.C. to nullify the state’s landmark new compact with the Seminole Tribe.


The lawsuit everyone has been waiting for finally arrived on Monday when a powerful coalition of anti-gambling interests in Florida asked a federal court in Washington, D.C. to nullify the state’s landmark new compact with the Seminole Tribe.

The coalition includes the group No Casinos, former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman and South Florida real estate mogul Armando Codina.

Except for the absence of Disney, this is essentially the same coalition that ironically joined forces with the Seminoles to persuade 71 percent of Florida voters to pass Amendment 3 to the Florida Constitution in 2018.

Amendment 3 stripped the Florida legislature of its authority to expand gambling, giving voters the exclusive right to make those decisions via ballot initiative and a state-wide referendum.

“Even though the city of Miami Beach has said clearly that they do not want casinos, Tallahassee, the governor, the president of the Senate are saying, ‘Miami Beach, we know better,’” Codina said Monday in a news conference outside City Hall in Miami Beach.

Dan Gelber, the Miami Beach mayor, and former Mayor Philip Levine, both Democrats, joined Codina, a Republican, at the news conference in support of the lawsuit.

Among other things, the new Seminole compact authorizes sports betting, craps and roulette at the tribe’s casinos, enables the tribe to develop up to three casino-resorts near Fort Lauderdale, plus launch state-wide mobile sports betting via servers located on tribal lands.

The compact further leaves open the door for existing pari-mutuel facilities with slot machines in Florida to move to new locations in Miami-Dade or Broward counties, provided they are at least 15 miles from the Seminole’s Hard Rock tribal casino in Hollywood.

John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance the lawsuit seeks to ensure the exclusive right of Florida voters to make decisions on gambling expansion.

The compact also violates Florida and federal law, Sowinski said, by attempting “to legalize online sports betting throughout Florida under the illusion that a bet placed from anywhere in Florida is ‘deemed’ to have happened on tribal lands if the computer processing the bet is on tribal lands.”

This is the third lawsuit filed so far against the Seminole compact.

The other two lawsuits, both by pari-mutuel companies in Florida, were filed in federal courts in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.

The new lawsuit on Monday alleges U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland improperly approved the compact in August after Governor Ron DeSantis signed the compact into law in May shortly after the Florida legislature ratified it.

By enacting the Seminole compact, the legislature and Governor DeSantis violated three federal statutes in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, the U.S. Wire Act of 1961 and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, according to Monday's lawsuit.

“By allowing new forms of Class III gaming activities on and off Indian lands and in violation of Amendment 3’s voter approval requirement, the (U.S. Department of Interior) approval has deprived Plaintiffs of their rights to participate in any citizens’ initiative where the issue of any gambling expansion must be decided under the Florida Constitution,” said the 40-page lawsuit which was signed by six attorneys in Florida and two in Washington, D.C.

Interior Department spokesman Giovanni P. Rocco declined to comment on the lawsuit.

On Tuesday, the Seminole Tribe said it continues to hire and train hundreds of workers to launch sports betting, craps and roulette.

“The new gaming compact was negotiated by the Seminole Tribe and the governor of Florida as spelled out in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the Seminoles, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance in an email.

“The Florida legislature voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new gaming compact, which was then approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior. It has the support of two-thirds of Floridians. It is law,” Bitner said.

The Seminoles also pushed back against claims by pari-mutuel companies that the tribe is within weeks of launching internet sports betting in Florida.

Citing language in the compact, Bitner said: “The wording is clear — ‘The Tribe agrees that it will not commence Sports Betting prior to October 15, 2021.’”

“It doesn’t say sports betting will begin on October 15,” Bitner said. “Seminole Gaming has always said sports betting would begin ‘in the fall,’ but has not announced an exact start date. The same is true with the start of craps and roulette at their six Florida casinos.”

Pari-mutuel companies have alleged in their lawsuit in Washington, D.C. that the Seminoles plan to begin accepting online wagers on November 15.

The question of the launch date will be considered in a hearing on November 5 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on plaintiffs’ motion for an emergency injunction to prevent the Seminole Tribe from launching online betting.

Ryan Rodenberg, an associate professor at Florida State University and a sports-betting scholar, said the new lawsuit represents another hurdle in the implementation of the Seminole compact.

“While in-person retail sports betting will likely be coming to Florida soon, potential mobile wagering could take some time given all the recent litigation,” Rodenberg said.

Kathryn Rand, an Indian gaming scholar who teaches at the University of North Dakota School of Law, said it is unclear if this week’s lawsuit against the Seminole compact will proceed.

“The big questions in this suit are whether the plaintiffs have the legal right to challenge the Interior [Department’s] decision on the compact,” Rand said.

“That will be a major legal hurdle for the suit to move forward.”

Spokesmen for DraftKings and FanDuel, which are trying to qualify an online sports-betting referendum for the 2022 Florida ballot, declined to comment on this week’s lawsuit against the Seminole compact.

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