Describing the Seminole Tribe as a “disingenuous” group whose potential financial harm is “self-inflicted,” two Florida parimutuels on Tuesday asked the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to deny the tribe’s appeal and request for a stay to continue to offer digital sports betting in the Sunshine State.
The brief was among multiple volleys in West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Associates vs. U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, which was moved to an appellate court after a U.S. District Court judge last week first found in favor of the plaintiffs. The judge ordered the suspension of sports betting and later denied the Seminoles’ request for a stay and motion to intervene. The tribe has nonetheless continued to offer wagering via its Hard Rock Sportsbook digital platform and appears to have no plans to stop.
The Seminoles replied to the brief on Wednesday, saying that the U.S. District Court’s decision to suspend digital sports betting had already had a “chilling effect” and had caused some vendors to stop doing business with the Seminoles. Lawyers for tribe also argued that failing to award a stay would cause the tribe to “suffer injury to its sovereignty” as well as cost hundreds of jobs and cost the state $40 million per month in gaming revenue.
On Tuesday, lawyers on behalf of the “No Casinos” lobbying group alerted the court to its plans to file an amicus brief. No Casinos, to which Disney has contributed in the past, works to limit the expansion of gaming in Florida. Disney, which traditionally has been opposed to wagering, recently opened the door to spinning off its ESPN brand, as well as adding sports betting to its repertoire.
According to Tuesday’s filing, “When Plaintiff’s counsel asked the Tribe’s counsel if the Tribe was at least going to cease offering the unlawful online sports gaming if the courts denied its motion for emergency stay, the Tribe’s counsel first said, ‘I don’t have any information on future plans,’ and then said, ‘The Tribal Counsel will evaluate the Tribe’s options after reviewing the decision by the DC Circuit.'”
Meanwhile, the Seminoles have not only continued to offer live wagering, but have repeatedly said that the betting app “remains fully open to all customers.”
Statement from Hard Rock Sportsbook on the current Florida Sports Betting ruling.
They assure us that they are here to stay… thoughts?
— Sports By Dustin (@SportsByDustin) November 23, 2021
‘Tribe rushed to offer sports betting’
Stakeholders say the tribe is breaking the law by continuing to offer live wagering, and the parimutuels are arguing that the Seminoles have brought “irreparable harm” by going live with wagering on Nov. 1, just four days before the initial District Court oral arguments and 15 days before the parimutuels — and District Judge Dabney Friedrich — believed the tribe said it would launch.
“The Tribe rushed to offer sports betting mere days before the hearing,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote in arguing that the court should “summarily deny the motion.” The parimutuels’ lawyers also made a request for oral arguments should the three-judge panel “even consider granting the motion.”
SPORTS BETTING IS LIVE IN FLORIDA LETS GOOOOOO pic.twitter.com/A2oQDSnqs9
— Daylon Barr (@BarrVisuals) November 1, 2021
In the brief, the lawyers argue that the tribe has no chance of winning its appeal, that it fails to show irreparable harm, that the plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm should wagering be allowed to continue, and that it is not “in the public interest” to allow the tribe to continue to offer wagering.
Feds ‘not opposed’ to Seminoles staying live
The argument came in response not just to the Seminoles’ appeal to the D.C. Circuit, but also the U.S. Department of the Interior’s filing earlier Tuesday, in which it tepidly backed the tribe’s desire to continue to offer betting. In that filing, lawyers for the DOI wrote that they “did not oppose” the continuation of live wagering, but disagreed with the tribe’s arguments.
It’s unclear when the court will issue a decision or if it will hear oral arguments, but the current situation is one that lawmakers and stakeholders predicted last spring when the state-tribal compact was amended to include statewide mobile sports betting, as well as an expansion of table games. The unique compact not only gives the Seminoles a monopoly on sports betting, but also stipulates that a bet placed anywhere in the state of Florida be considered one that is made on tribal lands, since it flows through a server located there.
The compact further allows the tribe to partner with parimutuels around the state to offer retail wagering, but the parimutuels must pay the tribe 40% of gross gaming revenue on every bet, making it a pricey proposition. So far, five parimutuels have signed agreements with the Seminoles.