In what amounted to be a bizarre two-hour court hearing on Florida online sports betting, complete with barking dogs and unmuted phone conversations, U.S. District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich did not make a judgment on the case and will allow lawyers representing the federal government to submit supplemental briefings by Tuesday, Nov. 9.

Friedrich said she will try to make a summary judgment on the case by Monday, Nov. 15.

Until a decision is made, Florida online sports betting will be allowed to continue in the state.

No decision made on Florida online sports betting

The nearly two-hour motion hearing, which was plagued with technical difficulties, saw plaintiffs representing West Flagler Associates, which owns Magic City Casino in Miami and Bonita Springs Poker Room, and Monterra LLC challenge defendant Deb Haaland, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and her approval of the 2021 Florida gaming compact.

Friedrich noted she had hoped to make a decision today, but would allow Rebecca Ross, attorney for Haaland, and the defendants to submit supplemental written briefings to the court by Nov. 9 to defend their position.

At the start of the hearing Ross said the defendants were not ready to argue the merits of the case and had failed to file all of their briefings, as they believed Friedrich would make a ruling on their motion to dismiss and then allow arguments for the merits of the case.

It would be a point of contention throughout the hearing, as Friedrich chastised Ross several times for being unprepared.

“It’s hard to not sit here and think the government’s sole litigation strategy is to delay the court from ruling,” she said near the conclusion of the hearing.

Is online sports betting allowed under IGRA?

Hamish Hume, an attorney representing West Flagler Associates, and Eugene E. Stearns, representing Monterra LLC, argued throughout the hearing that the gaming compact runs afoul of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

The gaming compact allows the tribe to offer certain types of gaming that nobody else in Florida can offer, which is “clearly not allowed under Florida law,” Hume said. Additionally, the gaming  compact’s argument that sports bets are technically placed on tribal land because the servers they’re processed on are located on tribal land patently runs afoul of IGRA.

“IGRA cannot be used as a federal vehicle to approve gaming off Indian land,” Hume said.

By creating a monopoly for the tribe, and making it a felony for anyone else to offer sports betting in the state, the Florida compact has created a discrimination based on race and ancestry that is subject to scrutiny, Hume said. This violates an equal protection clause, as the compact affords different treatment for gaming facilities based on race or tribal affiliation, he said.

The sports betting monopoly granted to the Seminole Tribe has already negatively affected state pari-mutuels’ bottom line, he said. Since the tribe’s online sports betting launch on Monday, Nov. 1, Hume said the handle at one of West Flagler’s pari-mutuel facilities has been reduced by nearly 35%.

Additionally, Stearns said any expansion of gaming in the state needs to be approved by a 60% vote, alluding to a 2018 constitutional amendment (Amendment 3) that requires any new casino gambling laws to be approved by Florida voters.

“You can’t use a backdoor effort to violate Florida law and expand gaming. The people have the right to do this, and the secretary doesn’t,” he said.

Ross argued the defendants believe there is no merit to an equal protection claim from the plaintiffs, that concerns over detrimental effects to revenue are purely speculative, and said online sports betting exclusivity for the tribe can be included in a gaming compact.

“The state can absolutely negotiate with an Indian Tribe and form a compact to offer a game of any kind exclusively. That’s absolutely allowed under IGRA.”

Missed opportunity for the federal government

Daniel Wallach, principal at Wallach Legal, the country’s first sports betting-focused law firm, told Saturday Down South he believes the federal government’s attorney was “woefully underprepared” and missed a big opportunity to advance the government’s position in oral arguments.

“Rather than take advantage of the opportunity to persuade the judge, they allowed West Flagler and Monterra to have the judge’s ear for the majority of the two hours. Stunningly, the Seminole Tribe had to sit on the sidelines,” he said.

The interpretation of IGRA will likely be the key to the Friedrich’s decision, he noted, not arguments for or against Amendment 3.