It shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone that lawsuits would appear in opposition to Florida’s new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. There have already been two federal suits launched, one in Florida and the other in Washington, DC, and both threaten to unravel the Sunshine State’s sports betting money-making machine. The Seminole Tribe hopes to stop the suits in their tracks before things get out of hand, arguing that it has immunity from federal lawsuits because it is a sovereign nation.
Seminole Tribe Wants Suits Dismissed
Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room, both with ties to the same West Flagler Associates firm, filed a suit against Florida and the Seminole Tribe last month in DC after filing a similar federal lawsuit in Florida the month before. They argue that the gaming compact violates Florida laws and statutes and attempt to have the compacts frozen until the cases are settled. The entities have also targeted Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Deb Haaland, requesting that her approval of the compacts be dismissed.
The Seminole Tribe submitted documents yesterday in the DC case to try and get the suit dismissed. It acknowledges that it is an “indispensable party” in the suit, which would obligate the tribe to respond, but adds that it can’t be forced to participate because it is a federally designated tribe and a sovereign nation. As such, the only alternative is for the suit to be tossed out of court, according to the tribe. Should the dismissal be granted, Florida would be able to quickly proceed with the development of its sports betting market, estimated to be worth $2.5 billion to the state over the first five years. If the dismissal is rejected, however, this could turn into a long, drawn-out battle that will have bookmakers placing lines on the outcome.
No Easy Outcome
While the DOI and Haaland oversee the native Indian tribes in the US, it’s the DOI’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) that actually wields the pen. That division is in charge of, among other things, approving or rejecting compacts between the states and the tribes. It approved Florida’s compact early last month when it allowed the mandated 45-day response window to lapse with no decisive response. The BIA’s boss, Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland, was waiting to be confirmed by Congress to his new role at the time, and received his approval a day after the gaming compact’s fate was sealed.
Because Newland is in charge of the BIA, it’s possible that the request by the Seminole to have Haaland’s decision throw out could be rejected. It was Newland who made the call and, even though Haaland oversees everything in the DOI, specifics are important in lawsuits. Newland wasn’t opposed to the compact, but raised concerns over some of the provisions that he felt were too all-encompassing, and that fact will also play a role in the discussion of the suit’s possible dismissal.