Gambling initiative backers doubled down in November
Image via CD Davidson-Hiers/Florida Phoenix.

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Gambling interests have spent $54 million so far on Florida petition drives.

Two organizations determined to get gambling expansion initiatives onto Florida’s 2022 ballot doubled down on their stakes in November, spending more than $10 million apiece last month trying to collect petition signatures.

In the case of Florida Voters in Charge, the Las Vegas Sands-backed committee seeking voter permission to build a North Florida casino, it was nearly an all-in move. That committee spent just about all the money it had left, $11.4 million, in November.

Florida Voters in Charge‘s previous biggest stake was placed in September, when it launched its statewide petition drive by spending about $5.5 million.

The other group, Florida Education Champions, backed by the two big national fantasy sports platforms, wants voter permission to open up sports betting to all. That group spent $10.5 million in November pushing its petitions in Florida.

They’ve now combined to spend $54 million on their petition efforts, and neither is officially half-way yet toward the 891,589 verified signatures needed to qualify for the 2022 statewide ballot.

Florida Education Champions replenished its funds in November as FanDuel put another $4.4 million of its money on the table. So the committee headed into December with a little over $10 million left to play. So far, FanDuel has given Florida Education Champions $15.5 million, and DraftKings $22.7 million.

Florida Education Champions now has spent about $26.8 million, and has officially received 172,000 petition signatures verified toward its constitutional amendment proposal, according to the most recent updates posted by the Florida Secretary of State.

Florida Voters in Charge has now spent $27.4 million and has gotten 246,000 petition signatures verified toward its constitutional amendment proposal.

Las Vegas Sands has provided $27 million of that committee’s money, and the Poarch Creek Band of Indians of Alabama has kicked in another $1 million. Going into December, Florida Voters in Charge had about $600,000 left.

Committee representatives for both initiatives have maintained they have a lot more signatures in hand but they haven’t gotten them through the counties’ and state’s verification bureaucracies yet, so they’re not showing up as counted yet by the Florida Secretary of State.

Both groups also maintained they will make sure they put enough money on the table to succeed.

Time is of the essence. The accepted goal is they each should get all the petitions turned in by the end of this year — less than three weeks, with holidays in the middle. They must have enough signatures verified by February, and the verification process takes time.

Both initiatives are being opposed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has the lion’s share of the state’s gambling business, Much of the Tribe’s future gaming plans are now in limbo as a federal court struck down the 2022 Florida Gaming Compact in late November. The first ramification was the Tribe had to shut down its newly-begun sports betting operations.

A political committee organized by the Tribe, Standing Up for Florida, has been running television advertising and other efforts seeking to convince Florida voters to not sign the petitions and to frustrate the two committees behind the initiatives.

Florida Voters in Charge had charged that the Tribe was trying to poach petition gatherers in an interference effort that is escalating as signature collecting comes down to the wire this month.

But Florida Voters in Charge has has dropped its request for a temporary restraining order. The move comes after a Leon County judge denied the Las Vegas Sands affiliates’ request earlier this week.

Standing Up for Florida has spent about $11 million in its efforts to oppose the petitions, including another $5.8 million in November. The Tribe pumped another $10 million into that committee in November, transferred from another political committee controlled by the Seminoles, Voters in Control. Standing Up for Florida now has received about $20 million and had about $8.5 million left to spend at the end of November.

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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