Las Vegas Sands spent the better part of decade trying to build a casino in South Florida, but the company appears to have shifted its focus a few hundred miles north.
The casino company made waves Monday when it was found to have pumped $17 million into a political committee that would back a then-unspecified gambling amendment in 2022.
A spokesperson said the company was “contemplating various options with no intention to violate the recently passed Compact/revenue sharing agreement” with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Documents obtained by Florida Politics show the political committee, Florida Voters in Charge, has two pitches for the ballot that both point to Jacksonville as the new target for a resort-casino.
One proposed amendment would authorize up to three existing cardroom license holders to offer full-fledged casino gaming if they’re at least 130 miles away from tribal lands and the owners agree to spend no less than $250 million on development and construction costs.
The wording would apply to the bestbet locations in Northeast Florida as well as Gretna, but the Jax area would be the obvious choice for a nine-figure capital investment.
The other proposal would allow for up to three new casinos in the state. The gambling licenses, which would be put up for competitive bid, would require the new facilities to be at least 100 miles away from tribal lands. Applicants would also have to show they would spend at least $500 million on development and construction.
The second proposal could allow a new player to set up shop down the road from existing cardrooms, which would be sure to rile up pari-mutuel interests.
No matter which option Las Vegas Sands picks, the only major metro that ticks all the boxes and would be financially viable for such an investment is Jacksonville.
Eyeing Jacksonville marks a change in strategy for Las Vegas Sands, which has attempted many times to get authorization to build a casino in South Florida.
Most of its efforts came before 2018, when voters OK’d a constitutional amendment that requires gaming expansions to get statewide ballot approval. The effort was backed by No Casinos and heavily funded by the Seminole Tribe and Disney.
Before the 2018 amendment passed, a handful of lawmakers carried bills that would have brought destination hotel casinos to the state. In 2012, then-Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff sponsored bills (SB 710/SB 712/SB 714) that would have opened the door for three such megacasinos in South Florida. It cleared one committee and died. Former Sen. Dana Young took a stab at it two years later during her time in the House, but that bill also flubbed.
This year, Florida Voters in Charge has $17 million ready to go for a statewide petition gathering effort to make the ballot. It was one of four eight-figure finance reports in some way related to gaming posted on the Florida Division of Elections website Tuesday.
The largest report was posted by Florida Education Champions, which raked in $20 million from DraftKings and FanDuel. It is backing a proposed amendment to open up the state’s sports betting market to all comers sans oversight from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The language would allow the Legislature to tax sports betting and dump the proceeds into the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, similar to the current setup with the Florida Lottery.
That effort is largely separate from the resort-casino question and will likely face stiff opposition from the Seminole Tribe.
“This is millions of out-of-state corporate dollars to try and manipulate the people of Florida, who are smarter than that. They think they can buy their way into the state. Our team intends to use our Florida dollars to protect the interests of the people of Florida,” Seminole Gaming spokesperson Gary Bitner said in a statement to Florida Politics.