Seminole Tribe doubles back on “chilling” Florida banning order
Hard Rock Digital parent company eyes second stay ruling as US Department of Interior voices its ascent to allow sports betting while appeal is being considered
Efforts by the Seminole Tribe to overturn a controversial US court ruling nullifying its 30-year gaming compact received high-profile support from the US Department of the Interior.
The Seminole Tribe’s compact, which was first agreed in August, was sensationally voided by US District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich earlier this month, on the grounds that it violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), and the Wire Act.
A central pivot of this is the so-called “hub and spoke” model, which allows for the offering of sports betting in the Sunshine State outside of tribal land, a clause which has been contested by two Florida-based parimutuel operators.
Under this approved compact, Seminole Gaming subsidiary Hard Rock Digital began to offer sports betting, before US litigators called a halt to proceedings.
In the wake of the first ruling, the Seminoles had attempted to obtain a stay order on the ban, citing the impact of the sudden reversal, an appeal request which was denied by Friedrich in an initial hearing.
However, the tribe launched a secondary stay appeal prior to Thanksgiving, with a ruling expected later this week.
“The District Court’s Memorandum Opinion and Order has had an immediate, chilling effect on the tribe’s operations,” the Seminole Tribe’s appeal states.
“The tribe and the state stand to lose millions in lost revenues and revenue-sharing payments, and hundreds of jobs could be lost or furloughed pending resolution of these issues on appeal.
The tribe respectfully requests expedited consideration of its emergency motion by December 3, 2021, as each day without a stay causes additional injury to the tribe and the state,” the motion states.
Responding to this motion, DOI officials suggested that while they did not agree with the Seminole Tribe’s assessment of the situation, they would not oppose any motion to allow sports betting to continue while the long-running case is being considered.
“IGRA provides no role for the federal government in the compact negotiation process between tribes and states,” the DOI’s response states.
“But IGRA does invest the Secretary of the Interior with authority to approve or, for limited reasons, disapprove a compact to which a state and tribe agree,” the DOI adds.
A stay could have been granted if the Seminoles had shown it was “likely” to succeed in an appeal, whether the tribe or the other parties in this case (i.e. the state) would be irreparably injured if a stay was not granted, and if the stay was in the public interest.
In its secondary appeal, the Seminole Tribe asserted its belief that a stay would meet these criteria, as well as the test of sovereign immunity, which would make the tribe a necessary party to proceedings and therefore able to launch its appeal.
“Although the federal government disagrees with the particular analysis presented in the tribe’s motion regarding likelihood of success on the merits, it does not oppose the tribe’s request that a stay be granted,” the DOI said.
“To elaborate, 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.
“With regard to the remaining three injunctive relief factors, the federal government is not in a position to dispute the tribe’s recitation of the harms that will befall it if the district court’s order remains in effect.
“The federal government accordingly takes no position on which way the balance of equities tips and does not oppose the tribe’s request that a stay be granted to protect its interests pending resolution of its appeal,” the DOI concluded.
A response to the motion has already been tabled by the plaintiffs in the case, West Flagler Associates and the Bonita Springs Poker Room, ahead of the resolution of the secondary appeal claim later this week.
The case continues.