Lawyers for Deb Haaland, the Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, filed a two-page “Statement of Issue on Appeal” on Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. While the document is brief, it’s also somewhat explosive, as it questions whether or not a U.S. District Court judge “abused [her] discretion” when ruling to vacate a gaming compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe in November.
The filing, which precedes the actual appeal, suggests that the DOI was right to let the compact, which would give the Seminoles a monopoly on digital sports betting and expand their gaming options, become “deemed approved.” Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the DOI does not have to act on a compact for it to become legal. Instead, the agency can let 45 days pass and allow a compact to become “deemed approved.”
In the filing, DOI lawyers wrote that “if the agency takes no action on such a submission within 45 days, the compact is ‘considered to have been approved by the Secretary, but only to the extent the compact is consistent with’ that statute, 25 U.S.C. § 2710(d)(8)(C). Here, the agency took no action for 45 days and, consistent with the statute, subsequently filed notice in the Federal Register that the compact had gone into effect.”
At issue is whether or not the compact, which would consider any digital bet placed anywhere in Florida to be made on tribal land if it flows through a server on tribal property, is, in fact, “consistent” with the IGRA, which governs only gaming on tribal land.
Claims of petition fraud
Wednesday’s filing also questions “(1) whether the district court erred in denying the federal government’s motion to dismiss the challenges; and (2) whether the district court erred in holding the agency’s action unlawful.”
The Seminole Tribe launched its Hard Rock Sportsbook digital app while the case was in U.S. District Court, and the tribe kept the app live for nearly a month, despite multiple decisions at the district and appeals court levels to shut it down.
Rachel Heron, a lawyer representing the DOI, did not indicate when the full appeal would be filed, but lawyers previously told Sports Handle that appeals court cases can take six to 12 months to be decided.
A pair of Florida parimutuels Tuesday called the Seminole Tribe "disingenuous" + ripped it for continuing to offer live sports betting after fed judge ruled that wagering should be suspended.
The filing was in response to the DOJ's support of the tribe keeping its platform live.
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) November 30, 2021
Against that backdrop, Florida Politics earlier in the week reported that investigations into petition fraud surrounding a proposal from the Las Vegas Sands Corp. continue as claims about the fraud balloon. Las Vegas Sands, through its Florida Voters in Charge political committee, circulated a petition that would have allowed voters to decide whether or not to allow a brick-and-mortar, Vegas-style casino in Jacksonville, among other gaming expansion. Throughout the signature-gathering process, there were complaints about fraud and harassment — both surrounding Florida Voters in Charge and entities working on behalf of the Seminoles, who were trying to block the petition.
The Seminole groups were also accused of paying petition gatherers to leave the state, rather than work, while both sides have accused the other of fraud, including fake signatures. According to the story, 60-70% of the signatures that Florida Voters in Charge turned in were fake.
Earlier in the campaign, elections officials said it takes much longer to document a fraudulent signature than a valid one, which slowed the process. By Feb. 1, the deadline for signatures to be verified, 814,211 petitions collected by Florida Voters in Charge had been verified, but 891,589 are needed to get on the ballot.
‘One of the worst-run’ ballot efforts
On Jan. 31 in Leon County Court, Florida Voters in Charge filed for an extension to continue counting. Judge John Cooper declined to rule immediately, saying he needed more time to review the case. According to the Leon County Court website, the case remains open.
“I’ve been conducting elections for over 30 years. This is by far one of the worst-run that I have ever seen,” Marion County Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox, who is president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections association, told Florida Politics.
‘Felony Friendly’: Inside The Business Of Signature Gathering For Florida Initiatives https://t.co/H7CxZD3q4r
— Sue Schneider (@SuziQSchneider) December 15, 2021
The Las Vegas Sands Corp. petition was one of two related to gaming that failed to make the ballot. Florida Education Champions, a political committee funded by DraftKings and FanDuel, was running a campaign to send the question of whether or not to allow statewide digital sports betting to the voters, but it shut down the effort before the deadline. All told, the two committees combined to spend more than $80 million — the most in Florida history — during the signature-gathering process.