In 2003, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” topped the Oscars with an unprecedented 11-0 score in the categories for which it was nominated. On October 6, the plaintiff in a Florida sports betting lawsuit delivered an equally commanding performance in a masterful legal brief.
West Flagler Associates needed less than three days to deliver a 110-page response to the defendants’ cry for a new result in an appeal of the case that suspended legal sports betting in Florida for nearly a year. The bottom line is that the contents of the dossier make a successful appeal feel even longer than any movie replicating the Oscars’ dominance of “The Return of the King” any time soon.
West Flagler puts hammer in Florida sports betting lawsuit
Last week the US Department of the Interior (DOI) explained why the DC Circuit Court of Appeals should find that the district court erred in its November 2021 decision that favored West Flagler’s case. In the same memoir, the Seminole Tribe of Florida also explained why the same lower court erred in refusing to let the tribe intervene in West Flagler Associates v Haaland, et al.
The DOI’s arguments largely echoed a set of previous views of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), representing Home Secretary Deb Haaland. The arguments hinge primarily on the appeals court’s belief that the district court’s decision to invalidate the gambling contract that Haaland/DOI had approved was wrong.
To make this point, both the DOI and the DOJ rely on a strategy of separate face-to-face and virtual sports betting aspects of Florida sports betting in the eyes of the court. In his response, West Flagler argues that this is complete fiction.
“This distorted position forces the Court to ignore what the Compact actually says, and the compacting parties’ obvious attempt to obtain the imprimatur of the IGRA to authorize the games stopped Indian land as if it were happening on Indian land—federal permission that was necessary, from the tribe’s and Florida’s perspective, because state law did not allow such games.
Imprimatur, in this context, refers to the court’s acceptance of a premise as true, in this case, that the Indian Playing Rights Act (IGRA) may itself authorize tribal gaming on lands not held in trust for a federally recognized tribe. Essentially, West Flagler lays out two solid theories.
It doesn’t look good for the defendants
First, like John Holden of Legal sports report has already shrewdly pointed out, West Flagler states that the defendants are try to dance around the main problem that the lower court determined that this was the end of the pact; its inclusion of online gambling outside of tribal lands which the IGRA expressly prohibits.
In fact, as Holden notes, West Flagler asserts that Haaland has an obligation under the IGRA. deny approval to any pact containing such provisions. Thus, the district court’s decision was correct.
In addition, defendants argued in court that the DOI and DOJ were asking him to defies all precedent regarding the IGRA.
“Here, the Compact unambiguously purports to give IGRA license to bets made outside Indian lands…Moreover, the breakdown of the distinction between ‘gambling activity’ and the ancillary administrative acts necessary to support such activity is inconsistent with both the plain text of the IGRA and the Supreme Court’s decision in Bay Mills.”
The memoir goes on to call the DOI’s attempt to reconfigure the situation an “effort to get an elephant down the mousehole.” Responses to these positions from West Flagler Associates could be even more inappropriate.
What shall we do now?
The DOI and DOJ have until November 14 to file their responses to West Flagler’s arguments. There could be more filings in the case over the next few days from other interested parties, supporting either side.
Currently, there is no schedule for oral arguments in the case. That means there’s no timeline for when the appeals court will issue rulings, but what’s likely to come first is a ruling on whether the Seminole tribe can join the litigation as a party to the complaint.
Those hoping the appeals court will overturn the lower court’s decision shouldn’t get their hopes up, however. Defendants’ arguments about how the district court erred seem pretty thin in light of plaintiff’s reasoning.