Photo via DeSantis / TwitterHighlighting a “legal fiction,” two pari-mutuel establishments have filed a federal lawsuit challenging a newly approved plan for the Seminole tribe to operate sports betting in Florida.

The owners of Magic City Casino in Miami-Dade County and Bonita Springs Poker Room in Southwest Florida filed a lawsuit on Friday, saying a sports betting plan passed by lawmakers in May violates laws federal. Lawmakers backed the plan as part of a gambling “pact” negotiated this spring by Governor Ron DeSantis and tribal chiefs.

As part of the deal, the Seminoles would serve as a hub for sports betting, which in the past was illegal in Florida. Players across the state could place bets online, with bets being executed through computer servers on tribal property.

But the 67-page lawsuit argues, in part, that a law known as the Federal Indian Gaming Regulation Act does not allow bets to be placed outside tribal lands. Further, the lawsuit argues that the plan’s structure is an attempt to circumvent a 2018 state constitutional amendment that requires voter approval for the expansion of gambling.

“In an effort to circumvent this clear prohibition in the state constitution, the covenant and implementing law of 2021 provides that a person will sit on their lounge chair by the pool or on their sofa at home who placing a sports bet via the tribe is “deemed” not to place a bet that is otherwise illegal in the state, “the lawsuit said. “The 2021 pact illegally considers that the bet is placed on the reserve of the tribe, where the servers will be located. However, this is nothing more than a legal fiction belied by the fact that sports betting still takes place off tribal reserves in a state where sports betting remains illegal.

Sports betting was the most publicized part of the pact announced by DeSantis and the tribal leaders in April. The pact, which lawmakers overwhelmingly approved in a special legislative session, calls for the tribe to pay the state $ 2.5 billion over the first five years in return for control of online sports betting. The tribe will also enjoy other benefits, such as the ability to offer craps and roulette at their casinos.

The sports betting portion of the deal still requires approval from the US Department of the Interior, which oversees tribal gaming. Lawmakers acknowledged in May that they expected legal challenges.

“Obviously, with this type of agreement, you are sort of navigating the icebergs of legal hurdles,” Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, told reporters in May.

Sprowls, a lawyer, said it was an “open question” as to whether a legal challenge would be successful.

“You know, reasonable people don’t agree. Some people looked at it and said, “Hey, I don’t think that’s going to do it.” I’ve watched it. I think it’s okay. The reality is that this will be resolved by a court, ”he added.

Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming, also admitted in an interview last month with The News Service of Florida that he expected legal challenges. But he stressed the benefits of the plan for the state.

“Our problem is, if you look at illegal sports betting on online gambling sites, there are already billions of dollars coming in from the citizens of the state of Florida every year,” Allen said in the interview. “So part of our message to state leaders was that this was happening anyway. It is not regulated. Very often these sites are just a magnet for offshore activities which may or may not include money laundering and many other illegal activities. So why not offer the product, because clearly the citizens told us that they wanted it.

As part of the plan, the tribe would contract with pari-mutuel facilities to help market sports betting. The lawsuit said this would include offering kiosks to place bets at pari-mutuel facilities.

But the lawsuit, filed by lawyers for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, argues that pari-mutuels would be at a disadvantage if the plan goes ahead. a marketing agreement with the tribe are completely excluded from any opportunity to offer sports betting. “

“As a result, pari-mutuels will not only lose the walk-in traffic that their business models are based on, which will ultimately affect their income from slots, card rooms and pari-mutuel, as well as the entertainment and dining options offered to guests of their facilities — but they are also denied the opportunity to compete on an equal basis with the tribe, ”said the lawsuit, first reported Monday by the Miami Herald.

The Magic City and Bonita Springs facilities are run by the Havenick family, long-time players in the state’s pari-mutuel industry. The lawsuit, which seeks an injunction, also argues that the sports betting plan violates federal laws known as the Wire Act of 1961 and the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act.

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