FL pari-mutuels fight to keep Seminole Tribe from defending its monopoly over sports betting

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A pair of Florida pari-mutuel facilities wanting to add sports betting to their gambling offerings argued in court records Friday that the Seminole Tribe of Florida has no right to stand in the way.

The Tribe, which entered a 30-year gambling compact with the state of Florida last spring, is trying to kill a federal lawsuit the pari-mutuels filed to block implementation of the compact. In particular, the pari-mutuels want courts to strike down provisions giving the tribe a monopoly over sports betting.

The Tribe’s argument is that it is “indispensable” in the dispute and must be allowed to formally intervene. But if the court allows it to intervene, the case will fall apart because the Tribe also is a sovereign nation immune from such lawsuits.

To be allowed to intervene, the Tribe must convince a federal judge in Washington, D.C., that its interests in the gambling compact – which are vast, counted in the billions of dollars – will not otherwise be adequately represented in the lawsuit.

The pari-mutuels that filed the lawsuit reject that argument, arguing in new court filings Friday that the U.S. Department of Interior, which green-lighted the gambling compact, is perfectly positioned to represent the Tribe’s interests.

The Department of Interior is involved because its Bureau of Indian Affairs is in charge of regulating Indian gaming nationwide. The pari-mutuels – Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room – have asked the federal judge to find the department’s clearance of a permit for the gambling compact to be in violation of Indian gaming laws.

“Not only is there no conflict of interest between the Tribe and the Defendants, but Defendants issued the DOI [Department of Interior] Letter that expressly discussed the online sports betting provisions and articulated their reasons for believing them to be legal,” says the filing by Magic City and its co-plaintiff. “The Tribe makes no effort to explain why Defendant’s position would be inadequate to defend the Tribe’s interests.”

“The Tribe is not an indispensable party to this dispute; its interests are fully protected by the Department’s presence in the case and other available measures; and declining to hear the case on the merits would work a substantial injustice on Plaintiffs [the pari-mutuels] and the public,” the filing continues. It further argues that the Tribe is attempting to short-circuit the lawsuit in order to prevent a closer look at the compact’s compliance with Indian gaming law.

If the pari-mutuels succeed in their efforts, the gambling compact and the Tribe’s monopoly over sports betting in Florida would be invalidated.

That would open options for the pari-mutuels to engage in sports betting themselves if it is legalized, as they hope. A group backed by sports-betting titans FanDuel and DraftKings is sponsoring a constitutional amendment campaign to legalize the activity regardless of the gambling compact. It is proposed for the 2022 ballot.

When the Florida Legislature ratified the compact in mid-May, it ordered that sports betting could begin no sooner than Oct. 15.

Last month, Seminole Gaming spokesman Gary Bitner said the tribe never announced a launch date and was never obligated to launch on Oct. 15.

“The Seminole Tribe has always said sports betting would begin ‘in the fall,’” Bitner wrote.