Some defendants in Maverick Gaming’s lawsuit are looking for a change of venue. Maverick, Washington’s largest non-tribal gaming operator, is suing the federal government and various Washington State officials.
Some of the latter would like to see the case transferred from the federal court in the District of Columbia to a courthouse in Washington State. They filed a motion to stay the proceedings and transfer the case venue towards the end of February. The case could see significant delays as a result.
While Maverick has yet to respond, it is likely to oppose the motion. After all, it was a deliberate decision on the plaintiff’s part to file in the District of Columbia.
What is the Maverick Gaming lawsuit about?
In January, gambling industry watchers saw a familiar name crop up once more. American lawyer and patron saint of legal sports betting, Ted Olson, had taken on a new lawsuit. It was one with the potential to derail sports betting in the State of Washington.
Olson’s latest client was the Las Vegas-based Maverick Gaming, which operates 19 cardrooms in Washington. It conducts gaming operations in a handful of other states as well.
Washington’s compact amendments grant the compacting tribes a monopoly on sports betting. In the complaint, the gaming operator alleges that this violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). It claims the compact runs afoul of several other federal laws as well. Most notably, Maverick says it fails to comply with the Constitution’s equal protection guarantees.
The crux of Maverick’s argument is that the Washington compacts discriminate by favoring tribal entities over non-tribal entities. Additionally, it argues that under the IGRA, a state can only extend to the tribes forms of gaming it permits elsewhere.
Maverick Gaming asks the federal courts for a great deal. Notably, it wants the Washington compacts declared null and void. But, by far, the biggest threat comes from its request for a prohibition against compacts granting tribal monopolies.
The current compacting system is built largely on granting varying degrees of exclusivity. A Maverick win in a federal court could therefore have devastating effects on tribal gaming agreements around the country, including the one for online casino gaming in Connecticut.
Motion to transfer venue
Several other state officials have joined Washington Governor Jay Inslee in his efforts to transfer the case for reasons of convenience. The federal defendants also agree that the matter should be taking place in the Evergreen State.
The wrong Washington
The memorandum of law accompanying the motion to transfer venue begins by stating, “This case was filed in the wrong Washington.”
The fundamental basis for the argument to transfer is that the state defendants say that the D.C. court has no personal jurisdiction over them. They argue:
None of the State Defendants resides in the District of Columbia, and none of their alleged actions took place here. It would not be in the interest of justice to require the State Defendants to defend themselves in a foreign forum to which they have no relevant connections and which is far removed from Maverick’s own allegations. Maverick’s case should therefore be transferred to the Western District of Washington….
However, the defendants’ primary reason for advocating for the transfer of venue is basic convenience. The court may or may not find that convincing.
Courts are generally conscious of the time and money that goes into litigation. If all parties in the case need to fly across the country repeatedly, and there is a way to avoid that, the court will weigh the equities. It will then decide if the case would be better heard somewhere closer to the parties involved.
Personal jurisdiction refers to a court’s jurisdiction over the parties involved in a case.
Typically, for a lawsuit to take place in a given court, there must be a connection between the court’s location, the plaintiffs and defendants, and the events at issue. The rationale is that people should not find themselves fighting a legal battle somewhere they have never been. That would potentially expose them to unfamiliar laws or rules, which runs against basic concepts of fairness.
Here the defendants are asking that the case be transferred to the Western District of Washington. That’s where Olympia is, and where a court would have personal jurisdiction over the state defendants in their official capacities.
Occasionally, personal jurisdiction applies even to people who have never set foot in a jurisdiction. This is through what have been dubbed long-arm statutes.
However, the defendants argue that the District of Columbia’s long-arm statute is inapplicable in this case.
Motion to stay
Alongside the motion to transfer venue, the defendants also filed a motion to stay. This effectively asks the D.C.-based federal court to put things on hold until it resolves the other motion. The motion to stay, however, contains an interesting tidbit of its own. In it, the defendants state:
Plaintiff indicated it would respond to a proposal by email, and the State Defendants followed up shortly after the telephonic conference by emailing a proposal that included a stay of proceedings until the Motion to Transfer is resolved. On February 24, 2022, Plaintiff rejected the proposal by email, instead proposing to amend its Complaint to drop the State Defendants as parties.
If the court grants the motion to stay, it would extend the defendants’ time to respond beyond Mar. 22.
What does this mean?
The motion to transfer venue will undoubtedly slow things down, even on its own. Maverick Gaming will have 14 days to respond to it.
If the court denies both motions, the defendants will have to file their response by Mar. 22. But, as the motion to stay reveals, it sounds like some changes are inevitable. Given the importance of the case, the delays will no doubt leave many observers biting their nails.