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Maverick Gaming‘s lawsuit is about to get back on track. It paused while some Washington State officials sought to get the case relocated to their home turf. Earlier this week, they got their wish. Las Vegas-based Maverick’s claims will be heard in the the District Court in the Western District of Washington.
Maverick alleges gambling compacts in Washington State discriminate against non-tribal entities like itself. It claims the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) means states can only permit tribes to do what they allow other entities to do.
Therefore if the commercial gambling company succeeds, that precedent could impact America’s 515 tribal casinos, 466 commercial casinos and US online gambling, in general. The American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates land-based casinos alone have a $261.36 billion annual impact on the economy.
Or the case could be decided much more narrowly.
At the moment, Maverick Gaming is suing the US Department of the Interior, as well as Secretary Deb Haaland, in front of Judge David G. Estudillo. He is one of the newest appointees to the bench. He’s also one of the few federal judges that President Joe Biden has managed to get confirmed.
The case completed its electronic journey from the District Court in the District of Columbia to Estudillo’s courtroom and we can expect a briefing schedule to get back on track.
A couple of months ago, time froze. In addition to Washington officials requesting a change of venue, Maverick filed an amended complaint asking the court to drop all of the Washington-based defendants. It appeared that the amended complaint sought to head off an earlier-filed motion to transfer venue, but that was ineffective, if it was indeed the plan.
On March 10, Maverick Gaming filed a motion that sought to amend the complaint that challenged the recently signed Washington gaming compacts. Among other things, those compacts brought sports betting to the Evergreen State.
The complaint, in its original form, alleged that Washington’s newly signed agreements, approved by the Interior Department, violated the Administrative Procedure Act. Maverick Gaming claimed the agreements did so because compacts are unconstitutional. That’s true, Maverick alleges, because compacts violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, as well as the Tenth Amendment‘s anticommandeering principle. (The latter is the reason that we have sports betting outside Nevada). The second and third counts alleged that various state defendants had exceeded their authority and engaged in:
“… racially discriminatory enforcement of the State’s criminal prohibitions against most forms of class III gaming.”
In late February, the defendants filed a motion that would transfer the case to Washington, where the majority of the defendants live.
Seeking to avoid losing access to the District of Columbia court, which Maverick Gaming saw as advantageous, the plaintiff tried to drop the state defendants and counts two and three of the complaint. In doing so, the matter would effectively revolve around the Interior Department’s approval and leave aside the complaints against the Washington State officials.
The reason Maverick, represented by Ted Olson of New Jersey sports betting litigation fame, believed the DC venue was advantageous was that court ruled favorably on a not-unrelated matter against Secretary Haaland and the Interior Department. That decision invalidated Florida‘s gaming compacts.
The court issued a stay a few days after Maverick filed the motion to amend the complaint. The stay stopped the tolling of all time in the case. All parties waited, pending resolution of the motions to transfer venue and to amend Maverick’s complaint.
On April 28, Judge Florence Pan (another President Biden appointee) issued a “minute entry.” That meant that the court granted the motion to transfer the case and that the the Western District of Washington judge could decide on the motion to amend the complaint. Although it’s entirely possible, having lost the motion to keep the case in DC, that Maverick Gaming may drop its motion. It may seek to proceed against all of the original defendants.
The return to the West Coast is likely not what the plaintiffs wanted. Maverick Gaming was willing to drop all the Washington-based defendants.
In DC, it was in a favorable jurisdiction. That court ruled that the Interior Department exceeded its authority in approving Florida’s compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which temporarily allowed for statewide mobile sports betting.
Going to Washington presents something of an unknown.
On the surface, the Maverick Gaming case is pretty different from the West Flagler Associates litigation that resulted in striking down the Florida compact. Maverick doesn’t attack the Interior Department’s approval of mobile betting, as mobile betting is not authorized in Washington. Instead, the complaint could conceivably undo much of the compacting process.
The plaintiff argues that it is unconstitutional to treat tribes more favorably than non-tribes. If the court agrees with Maverick, it will impact the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act’s compacting system. That system involves tribes paying revenue shares to the state in exchange for some type of exclusivity. That ruling could effectively remake the gaming model operating in large parts of the country.
Once things get situated and the clock begins to run again, we will see a response to the plaintiff’s efforts to amend their complaint. If that’s still Maverick Gaming’s plan.
However, this is likely going to be a long, drawn-out case.
In the end, the implications of a ruling in favor of Maverick Gaming have the potential to reshape gaming regulation across the country. For that reason, the final destination for such a decision will likely take this case to the US Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, court watchers will want to pay close attention to the Florida compact case appeal. That DC case has enough enough related issues as to the Interior Department’s responsibilities that it could be influential on what happens in Washington State.