Washington cardroom operator Maverick Gaming will persist in its attempt to undermine the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), even though the odds appear to be more against it than ever. Maverick would like to offer sports betting in Washington and has challenged the law awarding exclusivity over such gambling to the state’s gaming tribes. Although District Court Judge David Estudillo dismissed the case, Maverick has filed a brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, trying to overturn that decision.
It has already been a complicated case, including a change of venue and a narrowing of focus. Maverick filed its lawsuit in the District of Columbia, but the defense successfully persuaded the court to transfer it to the Ninth Circuit. There, earlier rulings had already established precedent against two of Maverick’s arguments, forcing its legal team to put all its eggs in a single basket.
Had the case proceeded, Maverick would have asked the court to determine whether IGRA violates the 10th Amendment Anti-Commandeering Principle by requiring states to enter negotiations with tribes. However, the Shoalwater Bay Tribe intervened to prevent that by way of a legal Catch-22.
Shoalwater argued that the verdict would directly impact its economic interests, making it a necessary party to the case. At the same time, sovereign immunity prevents tribes from being named as defendants in lawsuits without their consent. Thus, by the Tribe’s logic, the case could neither proceed without them nor with them as a defendant.
Recent Cases Suggest Momentum Favors the Defense
The stakes are high in the Maverick case. A victory for the plaintiff wouldn’t only force Washington to rethink its sports betting laws. It would negate a fundamental component of IGRA, potentially disrupting all tribal gaming across the US.
However, the odds of that happening appeared slim from the start and have continued to dwindle.
The argument the Shoalwater Tribe deployed hinges on Federal Rule of Procedure 19. A similar argument arose in the Florida sports betting case, West Flagler Associates v. Haaland. There, it was the Seminole Tribe of Florida intervening.
In that case, a District Court sided with the plaintiffs, but the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the decision in the Seminoles’ favor.
Legal analyst and occasional Bonus contributor John Holden wrote for Legal Sports Report that these cases are likely to land before the Supreme Court to obtain a final ruling on how Rule 19 applies to federal cases whose outcomes will impact sovereign tribes.
However, the Supreme Court has just handed tribes a significant victory in Haaland v. Brackeen. By a margin of 7-2, it upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act, which gives tribal governments jurisdiction over custody proceedings for children on their reservations.
Maverick Proves More Stubborn Than Expected
At the time of the Haaland v. Brackeen verdict, Holden concurred with a tweeted opinion from Pechanga Conference Chairman Victor Rocha that the decision signaled a pro-sovereignty stance by the Supreme Court that would render Maverick’s chances too slim to consider pressing on.
It appears Maverick isn’t quite ready to throw in the towel yet. It does, however, face a considerable uphill battle. Even if the Supreme Court were to rule against this application of Procedure 19, it wouldn’t mean Maverick would win the original case. It would simply send it all the way back down to District Court to begin anew, without interference from the Shoalwater Tribe.
Victor is dead on here. Can’t see any way the powers that be bankrolling the Maverick case would want to continue to throw money in only to have to end up in front of this Court. https://t.co/QTZGbNksU0
— John Holden (@Johnsportslaw) June 15, 2023