Two of the biggest platforms in the sports betting business — DraftKings and FanDuel — are launching a ballot initiative to open the Florida market to all comers.
The proposed constitutional amendment, launched by a new political committee called Florida Education Champions, comes a little over a month after the Legislature approved a new Gaming Compact, which, among other things, gave the Seminole Tribe of Florida the exclusive rights to offer sports betting statewide.
The launch of the proposed constitutional amendment was first reported by Florida Politics.
The ballot initiative would allow for taxes on sports betting, with all tax revenues going into the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund.
DraftKings and FanDuel already had a minor victory in the Gaming Compact and the various bills the Legislature approved in Special Session in May. They essentially legalized daily fantasy sports in Florida. Previously, the legal status of daily fantasy sports was a gray area. That form of betting has been the foundation of the business that FanDuel, DraftKings, and Bet MGM, and like companies established over recent decades.
Yet the Gaming Compact also gave the Tribe exclusive rights to the potentially more lucrative and broader field of sports betting, which ranges from picking Super Bowl winners all the way down to gamblers betting on whether the next football play in a live game would be a pass or a run.
The companies have reportedly staked the sponsoring political committee with a “significant amount” of cash. The exact amount will be disclosed in mid-July when campaign finance reports for June are due to the state.
Florida Education Champions, incorporated June 2, is being chaired by David Johnson, a Republican political consultant.
“Florida Education Champions is a political committee formed for the purpose of securing petitions in order to place an amendment on the November 2022 general election ballot,” the committee said in a statement first provided to Florida Politics.
“Specifically, this amendment authorizes sports and event betting at professional sports venues, pari-mutuel facilities and statewide via online sports betting platforms, and if betting revenues are taxed, taxes must supplement the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund.
“The Florida Division of Elections just approved the committee’s request to be assigned an official serial number for ballot placement, so we may immediately begin the petition collection process and thereby initiate efforts to generate substantial revenue that can be directed to Florida’s public education system — without raising taxes.”
The Florida Education Champions proposed amendment ballot language summary reads:
“Authorizes sports and event betting under Florida law at professional sports venues and pari-mutuel facilities and statewide via online sports betting platforms by entities authorized to conduct online sports betting, and by Native American tribes with a Florida gaming compact, only for persons age 21 years or older. Requires legislative action to regulate sports betting. Legislature may tax betting revenues, and all such taxes are required to supplement the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund.”
The Seminole Tribe of Florida is opposed to the amendment.
“This is a political Hail Mary from out-of-state corporations trying to interfere with the business of the people of Florida. They couldn’t stop Florida’s new Gaming Compact, which passed by an overwhelming 88% ‘yes’ vote from Florida’s elected legislators and enjoys 3-1 support from Floridians and guarantees $2.5 billion in revenue sharing. The guarantee is the largest commitment by any gaming company in U.S. history,” said Gary Bitner, a spokesperson for Seminole Gaming.
The initiative comes as the Gaming Compact faces an uncertain fate.
Though approved by lawmakers and the Governor, it still requires approval from the U.S. Department of Interior, though approval is likely
Even if it wins approval on the federal level, the deal will have to survive several expected court challenges centered on an amendment Floridians approved in 2018 that requires any gambling expansion to be approved on the statewide ballot.
No Casinos President John Sowinski, who led the effort to get the amendment in 2018, came out against the sports gambling initiative Thursday.
“One eternal truth is that expanding gambling always results in even more expanded gambling. We oppose the sports betting amendment announced today, and are confident that Florida voters will reject it, should it get to the ballot,” Sowinski said in a written statement.
“Like the Compact currently pending before the Department of Interior, we oppose this measure,” he continued. “The type of modern internet sports betting authorized in this amendment is not simply betting on outcomes and point spreads. It includes highly addictive “props betting” continually pinging gamblers through smartphone apps to entice them into betting on things like “will the first play of the next series of downs be a run or a pass” or “will Tiger make this putt.” Countries that have this type of betting have shown troubling spikes in teen gambling and addiction, a recipe for long-term social and economic costs that far outweigh any perceived benefits.”
The amendment, which was pushed by the Seminole Tribe, does not attempt to regulate tribal gaming, but anti-gambling groups say sports betting off tribal land would be a violation.
Backers of the 2022 proposal are rushing to gather contributions before Thursday, the effective date of a new law placing a $3,000 limit on contributions to political committees during the petition-gathering phase of ballot-initiative campaigns.
Republican lawmakers, who approved the contribution cap during the Legislative Session that ended in April, argued that it is necessary to keep high-rolling donors from amending the state Constitution.
But critics of the cap maintain that it will make it impossible to gather the requisite signatures to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. Petition drives typically cost millions of dollars.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and political committees behind three voting-related proposed constitutional amendments filed a lawsuit challenging the contribution cap. Plaintiffs have asked U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor to block the law from going into effect next week. Winsor held a hearing Thursday on the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction but has not ruled.
Constitutional amendments require 891,589 signatures to make the ballot, a number pegged to 8% of turnout in the most recent presidential election. If amendments make the ballot, they need at least 60% of the vote to pass.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.