For the two existing Florida gambling-focused PACs, the race to the 2024 Florida general elections is on.
Florida Voters in Charge and Florida Education Champions both tried to get gambling-related ballot initiatives on the 2022 ballot. But both failed to hit the required number of signatures. Instead, those groups will shift their focus to the 2024 election cycle.
Last April, the Florida Supreme Court agreed to review the two proposals. In essence, the court gave the two initiatives a head start for 2024. As a result of the ruling, the two PACs won’t have to seek approval of their wording for their second try.
Breaking down the two initiatives
The casino initiative would allow commercial casinos to enter the Florida market for the first time in history. Currently, Florida only allows tribal casinos and nearly all of them are owned by the Seminole Tribe. The proposal would allow commercial casinos as long as it was located outside of a 130-mile radius of a Seminole-owned property.
Las Vegas Sands Corp is funding the casino proposal
Las Vegas Sands Corp was the largest donor to Florida Voters in Charge. The gaming giant donated $73.56 million of the $75.56 million the PAC received. The Poarch Creek Band of Indians gave the other $2 million.
There were rumors that Las Vegas Sands was eying a Jacksonville casino. The city is home to more than 900,000 people and falls outside of the 130-mile limit. Additionally, Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry supports the proposal.
There were no reported rumors about why the Poarch Creek Band of Indians supported the initiatives. But basic geography can possibly give us some insight.
The Alabama-based tribal nation already owns several casinos in its home state. Furthermore, there aren’t many gambling options in Florida’s panhandle and the area shares a border with Alabama. Most gamblers in the region likely travel over the border to Mississippi to play at Biloxi casinos.
If the initiative were to pass in 2024, the tribe could easily push for a casino in the area. The state’s capital, Tallahassee, is in the region, after all.
FanDuel and DraftKings fund Florida Education Champions
The sports betting initiative doesn’t have any contingencies like the casino expansion one does. It essentially does two simple things: Legalize sports betting in Florida and allow non-Seminole entities to operate sportsbooks in the state.
With how simple the initiative is, it’s no wonder why FanDuel and DraftKings were the two largest donors of Florida Education Champions. They want access to the Florida sports betting market. FanDuel shelled out $14.5 million to the PAC, while DraftKings added another $22.9 million.
Under the current gaming compact, only the Seminole Tribe is authorized to operate an online sportsbook. And any pari-mutuel facility that opens a retail sportsbook would give a chunk of revenue to the tribe. The agreement is currently undergoing a lengthy legal battle after a federal judge ruled last November that it violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Initially, it appeared that the group would get the issue in front of voters this year. However, significant barriers stood in their way. Florida Educations Champions posted the following on their website:
“While pursuing our mission to add sports betting to the ballot we ran into some serious challenges, but most of all the COVID surge decimated our operations and ability to collect in-person signatures.”
Heavy opposition from the Seminole Tribe
The Seminole Tribe also donated around $20 million to a competing PAC, Standing Up for Florida. The PAC vowed not “to turn Florida into another Las Vegas.” Their advertising campaign hoped to dissuade voters from the initiative by claiming the proposed system was unstable.
Florida Education Champions didn’t do themselves any favors either. The group only started collecting the necessary signatures in June 2021, just seven months before the deadline. It was clearly not enough time to hit the required amount.
Here’s a look at the benchmarks and deadlines these PACs need to hit in order to be successful in their second go-around.
Benchmark 1: Signature requirements
For either PAC to get their initiative on the ballot, the Florida Constitution requires proponents to collect signatures equivalent to 8% of the votes cast in the last presidential election. Florida cast 11,144,855 votes in the 2020 presidential election. Therefore, petitioners must collect at least 891,589 signatures.
In the failed bid for the 2022 election, Florida Voters In Charge collected 814,266 signatures, just shy of the total. On the other hand, Florida Education Champions collected only 514,910 signatures.
Benchmark 1a: Signature requirements for proposal review/approval
In the process of collecting signatures, the Attorney General with the aid of the State Supreme Court will review and possibly approve the proposals when the signature total reaches 25% of the total required signatures in 25% (8) of the state’s congressional districts. In both the 2022 and 2024 election cycles, that total is 222,897 signatures.
This approval process checks for compliance for three things:
- the initiative must address only one subject
- the summary of the initiative must be no more than 75 words
- the initiative must be “facially valid under the United States Constitution”
As mentioned earlier, both existing PACs already triggered this step in the process, which limits some of the legwork in the 2024 cycle. The Florida Supreme Court has not ruled on these three aspects though, and a ruling isn’t likely until April 2024.
Benchmark 2: Geographic distribution of signatures
Florida has a second geographic requirement for signature collection whereby signatures must come from at least 50% (14) of the state’s total congressional districts, and the number of signatures collected must represent 8% of the district’s total votes cast in the previous presidential election.
In the 2022 cycle, Florida Voters In Charge met this benchmark in 10 of the 14 districts while Florida Education Champions did not meet it in a single district.
Benchmark 3: Fiscal review
This benchmark is triggered when a petition reaches 25% of its total signatures as well as 25% of the necessary signatures in half (14) of the state’s congressional districts.
At this point, the initiative goes to a Financial Impact Estimating Conference, which, in conjunction with public input, drafts a concise statement of the effects of the initiative on revenues and expenditures. The conference also drafts a lengthier financial statement of the predicted effects and the methods used in the analysis.
If the conference can’t reach a consensus, the initiative will advance to the ballot with a notice stating:
“The financial impact of this measure, if any, cannot be reasonably determined at this time.”
Deadlines and important dates
All signatures attached to an initiative must be verified by county election supervisors by Feb. 1 of even-numbered years. Verification takes roughly 30 days to complete, so the two existing PACs, and any new PACs for that matter, should be shooting for Jan. 2, 2024, as the drop-dead deadline for signature collection and submission to the County Supervisor of Elections.
The Florida Supreme Court retained jurisdiction on the 2022 ballot initiatives. Justices will then “render its written opinion no later than April 1 of the year in which the initiative is to be submitted to voters.”
Therefore, we can expect a ruling by April 1, 2024. If the court finds the initiatives to be in line with the US Constitution and within the word limit and subject requirement and assuming all other benchmarks are met, the initiatives would move on to the general election ballot.
To become law, a simple majority of voters must vote “yes” on the initiative. However, the initiative must receive a supermajority if the proposal requires a constitutional amendment.
The sports betting initiative would require an amendment. The casino initiative, on the other hand, would not.
All approved amendments are scheduled to take effect on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January in the following year. In this case, Jan. 7, 2025, is the earliest date sports betting and/or commercial casinos could be legalized in Florida through a citizen ballot initiative.