Federal attorneys on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior on Tuesday morning gave their blessing — albeit a tepid one — for the Seminole Tribe to continue to offer digital sports betting in Florida. In a brief filed in the case of parimutuels West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Associates vs. DOI Secretary Deb Haaland, federal lawyers wrote that while they “do not agree with all analysis” presented by the Seminoles, they “do not oppose the motion.”
The case, which has now been assigned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, was initially filed in U.S. District Court, where Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled in favor of the parimutuels and called for the Seminoles to cease offering wagering last week. The tribe, through its Hard Rock wagering platform, continued to offer mobile betting after Friedrich’s initial Nov. 22 decision to vacate the compact between the state and the tribe, and again after she denied an appeal on Nov. 24. As of Tuesday morning, the platform was live.
Though it is the Seminoles’ ability to offer wagering that is in question, the tribe is neither a plaintiff nor defendant in the case. Friedrich further denied the tribe’s request for a stay last week, and the Seminoles went on to appeal to the appellate court, which has a three-judge panel and is one step away from the U.S. Supreme Court. The parimutuels have until noon Wednesday to file a response, and no date for a decision or oral arguments has been set.
Feds don’t agree with Seminole argument
In its reply to the Seminole appeal, the DOJ wrote that “a movant seeking preliminary injunctive relief ‘must establish that [it] is likely to succeed on the merits, that [it] is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in [its] favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.'” The tribe argued that it met all four requirements, but the federal government disagreed, though it isn’t against the idea that the Seminoles should be able to continue to offer wagering as the case plays out.
DOJ lawyers wrote that they believe that the “Tribe presents only one basis for finding that it has demonstrated the requisite likelihood of success on the merits: that the district court erred in not granting the Tribe’s limited motion to intervene and dismissing on Rule 19 grounds.”
In essence, the federal government lent the Seminoles its support, but not in a strong or unequivocal way. DOJ lawyers wrote that they are “not in a position to dispute the Tribe’s recitation of the harms” it would suffer without the stay and they “take no position on which way the balance of equities tips.”
Compact controversial from start
The Seminoles’ compact with the state of Florida has been controversial since it was agreed upon and then approved by lawmakers last spring. Even during a special session to approve the compact, legislators said they expected legal challenges. At issue is the concept that any bet placed anywhere in Florida that flows through a Seminole server is considered a bet placed on tribal lands. That model has not been used anywhere else in the U.S., and gives the tribe a monopoly.
Haaland did not sign off on the compact, rather she allowed it to become “deemed approved” over a 45-day review period.
Since the compact was approved, three lawsuits have been filed, and a group of commercial operators led by DraftKings and FanDuel are working to get a referendum that would create a more open, competitive marketplace on the November 2022 ballot.