A group plans to challenge the new gambling compact Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Friday with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, arguing it is a violation of the constitutional amendment voters approved in 2018 and would be challenged in court if it is enacted without statewide voter approval.
“This violates Amendment 3 in at least three ways,” No Casinos President John Sowinski said.
Amendment 3 — adopted in 2018 with a 71% approval from statewide voters — requires any new casino gambling in Florida to be approved by voters. The Voters in Charge political action committee chaired by Sowinski that year raised and spent $45 million to campaign for the issue’s passage. No Casinos has been the lobbying force opposing gambling expansion in Florida before and since the 2018 vote.
Under the deal DeSantis and the Seminoles signed Friday, the tribe would be granted exclusive control of sports betting in Florida; casinos now tied to pari-mutuel racing could continue to operate game rooms without running races anymore; and the tribe would be allowed to expand its operations onto non-tribal lands. In exchange, the tribe would start paying license fees to Florida again, in amounts expected to top $500 million a year.
The Legislature has called a Special Session to begin May 17 to consider enabling legislation for the deal.
Sowinski said the sports betting, the non-tribal locations, and the decoupling of game rooms from pari-mutuels each constitutes an increase in Class III gambling in Florida. All would be clear violations of Amendment 3, unless approved by voters first, he said.
“The proposed compact violates the letter and the spirit of Amendment 3. We call on the Governor and our Legislators to honor the will of the people, who demanded that any new casino gambling authorization occur at the ballot box, not behind closed doors in Tallahassee,” No Casinos declared in a statement released Friday afternoon. “We are committed to defending the integrity of Florida’s Constitution, and ensuring that the will of the people is respected.”
Sowinski said that if the Legislature approves a package of bills to administer the new compact and the state pursues it, No Casinos would sue to have the compact tossed as unconstitutional. He said he expects others would as well.
“Bottom line is, if it’s such a great deal for Florida, for the citizens of this state, why not let the voters have the say,” Sowinski said.