‘Send lawyers, (gambling) and money’: A look at the 2022 ballot initiatives on betting

gambling gaming cards chips
$62 million placed so far. That's just the antes.

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up, place your bets; this table has a $10 million minimum.

And that’s just the ante.

If there ever was any doubt about how much money may be on the table with the new Seminole Compact approved by Florida in May and the Seminole Tribe of Florida in June, and now under review by the federal government, the political committee activity of the past month should make it clear.

On the table so far:

— $20 million placed June 23 and 24 by DraftKings and Fan Duel, the two giant daily fantasy sports platforms wanting a bigger piece of Florida’s action. They played their money with a newly formed political committee, Florida Education Champions, which could try to convince Florida voters to give a bigger piece to them.

— $15 million placed June 10 and 29 by West Flagler Associates, the Miami company that owns Magic City Casino. They put theirs in through another newly formed committee, People Against Regulatory Legislation Addressing You, which could try to convince Florida voters to give them greater gambling expansion opportunities.

— $17 million placed June 28 by Las Vegas Sands Corp., the international casino operator that has been trying to get a casino in Miami for many years. They put their money on the table through yet another newly formed political committee, Florida Voters in Charge, which could try to convince Florida voters to give them that opportunity. In fact, they’re looking at two proposals, and this go around it seems they have their eyes on Jacksonville. One option would cut in existing players such as bestbet, and the other would set up some direct competitors to those cardrooms.

— $10 million placed June 30 by Seminole Gaming, the corporation that represents the Seminole Tribe of Florida‘s gambling interests. That’s right; they placed their money through yet another newly formed political committee, Voters in Control, which could try to convince Florida voters to say no to the other three committees.

Should one or more of them expect to actually get a proposed constitutional amendment before voters on the 2022 ballot, far more money will be needed. No Casinos spent $45 million to push through Amendment 3 in 2018, and that arguably was a much easier sell in Florida, a restriction on gambling, not an expansion.

All three pro-gambling committees face long odds, so their eight-figure plays now suggest they expect that the final pot could be huge.

First, they’ve placed their opening bets even though they face tight timetables to meet Florida’s constitutional amendment laws. Even if they manage to gather almost 900,000 valid petition signatures by the end of this year, they’ll then have to appeal to a Florida electorate that might not be so inclined to expand gambling that 60% would vote yes in a non-presidential election. The best that gambling interests have ever seen was the 50.8% approval that Florida voters gave to Amendment 4 in 2004. That was for limited slot machine play in Florida.

There also remains the prospect that the current game could be raided by the feds. The U.S. Department of the Interior must approve the Seminole Compact, based on whether it lives up to the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA.) That decision expected no later than the second week in August.

The Interior Department doesn’t say no often. But one of the edicts it must consider is whether compacts would help limit gambling in states. The three pro-gambling committees have placed a combined $52 million on the table so far on the mark that the compact could expand gambling for them.

Besides the tight timetable for petition pushing, the groups also needed to get set up by July 1 if they wanted to have any early money.

Tired of fighting against proposed constitutional amendments it does not like, the Florida Legislature just approved a bill (SB 1890) to cap donations to political committees backing proposed constitutional amendments at $3,000 during the signature-gathering process. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law May 7. It would have taken effect July 1, except it is being challenged in federal court, and a judge has stayed its implementation.

If the three pro-gambling committees each succeed in getting a proposed constitutional amendment onto the 2022 ballot — and all three face long odds for that — Florida’s voters could see gambling campaigns costing a combined hundreds of millions of dollars leading into the 2022 General Election.

No Casinos, which wants them all to lose those bets, is not playing this table, at least not for now.

No Casinos, previously financially through their old committee Voters In Charge by Walt Disney World and other tourism giants that don’t want to compete with casinos in Florida, expects to play its hand in the courts. The group that has long been Florida’s most-organized anti-gambling organization is contemplating a state or perhaps a federal lawsuit, or both, contending the Seminole Compact is illegal and should be tossed by a judge.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected]



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