Owners of Magic City sue in federal court to stop gaming compact

sports betting
Suit challenges federal approval of Florida's Gaming Compact.

The companies behind two private Florida casinos is filing suit in federal court to have Florida’s Gaming Compact ruled unlawful and have the federal government’s approval vacated.

The complaint, filed In the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says the federal government illegally approved the Compact on Aug. 7 because it allows gambling — sports betting — to take place on the internet, which the suit says means not on tribal lands.

West Flagler Associates, operating Magic City Casino in Miami and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., operating Bonita Springs Poker Room, an affiliate of Magic City in Bonita Springs, sued Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the U.S. Department of the Interior over their approval. Both casinos are controlled by the Havenick family of Miami.

The lawsuit declares that the sports betting components of the Compact and Florida’s enabling legislation both are based on a “fiction” that sports betting could be deemed as taking place on tribal lands because bets will be accepted on servers and devices located on tribal lands, even though the betters are placing the bets elsewhere in Florida.

The suit even brings up the infamous “betting in your bathtub” comments of Republican Rep. Randy Fine, who chaired the House Select Committee on Gaming in May: “We’re going to allow the Seminole Tribe to offer sports betting where you can be sitting in your bathtub or sitting on your couch, thinking about a football game, and you can make a wager, regardless of where you physically are, on your cellphone.”

The interests behind Magic City Casino already have sued before to stop the compact, filing against Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in July.

DeSantis signed the Compact and enabling legislation in May.

They also have been pursuing a constitutional amendment initiative in Florida to convince Florida voters to give them greater gambling expansion opportunities.

But that was before the federal government gave final approval to the compact last week.

“The Gaming Compact is now in effect. It has been agreed to by the Governor and the Seminole Tribe, approved overwhelmingly by the Florida Legislature and deemed approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior. It has the support of two-thirds of Floridians. The State, the Tribe and Seminole Gaming are moving forward,” said Gary Bitner, spokesperson for Seminole Tribe of Florida and Seminole Gaming

The Governor’s Office said it is reviewing the suit and will respond appropriately in court.

The suit makes several claims against Haaland’s approval, starting with the assertion that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows her to approve such compacts “only to the extent that they concern “gaming on Indian lands.”

Second, the complaint charges that any betting transactions conducted over the internet would violate federal bank wire laws “by unlawfully permitting internet and bank wire transmission of transactions and payments relating to sports betting between the Tribe’s reservations and the rest of Florida, where sports betting is otherwise illegal.”

The suit also contends that the federal approval violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law since the tribe would be allowed to run “internet sports gambling throughout Florida” even though it would be a criminal offense for anyone else to do so.

The suit belittles as a weak, semantic attempt, the wording in the compact and in Florida’s enabling legislation approved by the Legislature in Special Session in May.

“(B)ets placed from outside of the Tribe’s reservations will be ‘deemed’ to take place on the reservations so long as the bets are received on ‘servers’ and ‘devices’ located on those reservations. This fiction does not render the Compact lawful, but rather contradicts the federal government’s prior position and long-standing precedent interpreting applicable federal law and recognizing that betting or wagering occur where the bettor is located, and where the wager is received,” the suit charges.

The suit also notes that this might not be an issue for a federal court to consider — that the compact violates Florida’s constitution. It notes the 2018 constitutional amendment approved by statewide voters.

Florida’s constitution, the suit advises the court, “prohibits any further expansion of casino gambling except through a citizens’ initiative … and no citizens’ initiative (or other constitutional amendment) has authorized sports betting in Florida.”

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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