Competing gaming interests are set to square off against each other in court for the first time Wednesday in a fight over expanding Florida’s gambling scene that one side argues has devolved into harassment and intimidation tactics.
Groups backed by casino giants at Las Vegas Sands and the Seminole Tribe of Florida will meet with a Tallahassee-based judge in a time-sensitive case over whether Tribe-backed groups are strong-arming members of a Las Vegas Sands-backed ballot campaign.
Florida Voters in Charge, a group funded by Las Vegas Sands, has requested a restraining order against the Tribe’s groups, including Standing Up for Florida and Let the Voters Decide. According to the lawsuit, the Tribe-funded groups would prevent Florida Voters in Charge from getting its initiative to expand gaming in the Sunshine State on the 2022 ballot if the groups aren’t stopped.
The Las Vegas Sands-backed group argues the Tribe is harassing and intimidating people and running a sham petition-gathering effort to siphon manpower from its campaign to add to the Florida Constitution an avenue for card rooms to become casinos. POLITICO Florida first reported the “gaming turf war” last week.
The lawsuit argues the vendors operating in the Tribe’s interests circulated a “sham” petition to employ as many petition gatherers as possible so that they couldn’t work on Florida Voters in Charge’s campaign. The lawsuit also alleges that the vendors paid petition gatherers per signature, a misdemeanor under Florida law.
According to the accusations, the Tribe-backed groups have sicced people on others working for the Florida Voters in Charge campaign, harassing and intimidating them.
The lawsuit says that people working in the Tribe’s interests have ripped clipboards from the hands of petition circulators, run away with stacks of their petitions, and screamed at voters to discourage them from interacting with petition circulators. The efforts have escalated in recent days, the lawsuit continues, with the Tribe’s team paying off Florida Voters in Charge’s petition gathering team to not collect signatures, “offering large sums of money to do nothing at all.”
If the interests working for the Tribe aren’t stopped, Florida Voters in Charge “will not be able to obtain the number of signatures required to place the Gaming Initiative on the 2022 ballot,” the group argues.
Time is running out for the campaign to collect the nearly 900,000 signatures it needs to get its initiative on the 2022 ballot, of which it has about 200,000. While the verification deadline on those signatures is Feb. 1, Florida Voters in Charge says it must submit signatures by Dec. 30 to ensure that elections supervisors verify them in time.
The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in a Leon County court, follows a legal blow to Florida and the Seminole Tribe in which a D.C. court nixed the Gaming Compact between the Tribe and Gov. Ron DeSantis that was set to bring billions to the state in the coming years.
Judge Angela Dempsey will hear the intimidation case in the Florida 2nd Judicial Circuit in Tallahassee in a case management conference scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday.
The lawsuit and POLITICO’s reporting prompted St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes to call on state attorneys to investigate the Tribe and its vendors.