How much might a North Florida casino be worth?
Las Vegas Sands, the Nevada-based gaming company, gambled $73.5 million on one proposal — and apparently lost, though the company has not left the action yet.
The amount likely was the most ever spent for a statewide constitutional amendment campaign, and was especially extraordinary considering it was only for the petition drive portion of the campaign. The effort never had to put up an advertising campaign for voters, because it never got that far.
The previously most expensive campaign — certainly in recent years — was another gambling initiative, one that made Florida Voters In Charge’s effort necessary. In 2018, the similarly named but unrelated Voters In Charge spent $45 million for its successful amendment to require all future gambling expansions in Florida to go before voters.
The effort to get a North Florida casino before statewide voters next November officially failed on Feb. 1, when the committee running the Florida campaign, Florida Voters In Charge, failed to get enough verified voter signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.
Florida Voters in Charge is suing to try to get more time. But the committee also faces reports of unprecedented signature rejection rates, and widespread allegations of fraudulent petitions, including law enforcement investigations.
There will be additional expenses in February as that lawsuit, in Leon County Circuit Court, proceeds. Last week, Circuit Court Judge John Cooper denied Florida Voters In Charge’s request for a temporary injunction that would have resumed the process pending a full court order.
The Poarch Creek Band of Indians of Alabama was a minor partner in the effort, putting in $2 million toward the $75.5 million total kitty that Florida Voters In Charge had to run the campaign.
Of that, the committee had spent $73.8 million by the end of January. That was spent just on the petition drive and various organizational and legal expenses — not on an autumn promotional campaign to convince voters to approve the measure.
By contrast, the committee People United for Medical Marijuana spent a total of $14 million on its successful medical marijuana initiative in 2016, including its autumn advertising drive. Floridians for a Fair Democracy spent $21 million on its successful voting rights restoration campaign in 2018, and Florida for a Fair Wage spent $5 million on its successful amendment in 2020 to raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Florida Voters In Charge paid $72.5 million of its money to GameDay Strategies of Ponte Vedra Beach as the campaign’s general contractor. That company, in turn, spent most of it on undisclosed subcontractors, mostly to gather petitions from August 2021 through the end of January.
Florida Voters In Charge also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on law firms and other consultants. The rest went to Supervisors of Elections offices to pay for processing costs of petitions.
In January, as Florida’s 67 county supervisors of elections were sorting through hundreds of thousands of petitions, determining whether they were legitimately signed by actual voters, Las Vegas Sands put another $24 million into the effort, its biggest one-month investment to date.
Florida Voters In Charge spent $28 million in January. That included $26.8 million that went to GameDay Strategies, and about $287,000 for legal expenses.
The campaign had faced stiff counter currents and other challenges from the beginning, including a short time frame, a $20 million opposition campaign funded by the Seminole Tribe of Florida and competition from another failed gambling initiative for the services of paid petition gatherers.