Supreme Court Gives Florida Gambling-Related Ballot Initiatives Head Start For 2024

Written By Steve Schult on April 19, 2022
Florida gambling-related initiatives

The Florida Supreme Court made it slightly easier for the two failed gambling-related ballot initiatives to pass in 2024.

One of the initiatives tried to legalize sports betting in Florida. It would allow betting at all professional sports and pari-mutuel facilities, as well as legalize online wagering.

Last Thursday, the court ruled that it will review the two proposals. As a result, the groups working to pass the initiative don’t have to start from the ground floor in 2024. Sponsors won’t have to seek approval of the wording during their second try.

The other proposed adding more casinos to the Sunshine State. The initiative’s only restriction was that new casinos must be at least 130 miles away from an existing Seminole-owned casino.

Based on the requirements, it appeared that the most likely landing spot for another casino would be Jacksonville.

Both Florida gambling-related ballot initiatives failed to reach the signature benchmark

A political action committee called Florida Education Champions backed the sports betting proposal. Online sports betting giants FanDuel and DraftKings backed the PAC with a combined $37.5 million in donations.

Southwest Florida Enterprises donated $4 million to Florida Education Champions last week. It marked the first time a Florida-based company gave to the PAC.

After the new gaming compact was passed, the PAC began its signature-gathering efforts for the initiative. The proposal allowed for more competition in a potential Florida sports betting industry.

The compact would give the Seminole Tribe nearly complete control of the sports betting market.

A PAC called Florida Voters in Charge was behind the casino proposal. The group got $73 million in financial backing from Las Vegas Sands Corp.

There were already rumors that Sands wanted to build a Las Vegas-style casino in Jacksonville even before the PAC was created. But regardless of the company’s Florida desires, it clearly wanted to regain a presence in the U.S.

Sands sold its Las Vegas Strip properties in March 2021, leaving the company without an American casino. Prior to the official sale of the pair of casinos on Las Vegas Boulevard, the company was already lobbying the Texas legislature to legalize casino resorts.

To get the initiatives on the ballot, the PACs needed just shy of 900,000 signatures from registered Florida voters.

However, both groups fell short of that mark and will not get their issue in front of voters this year. Each proposal received about 500,000 signatures.

Florida Supreme Court must review initiatives that reach a different threshold

The proposals needed 900,000 signatures to get in front of voters. But the court needs just a fraction of that total to trigger a review.

The Attorney General asks the Florida Supreme Court to review the proposals once it reaches 223,000 signatures. Then, the court will review the constitutionality of the issues at hand.

Both the sports betting and the North Florida casino issue hit the smaller signature threshold, which sparked the action from the court.

Justices asked the sponsors to show cause why the case shouldn’t be dismissed. They also asked Attorney General Ashley Moody and other interested parties to file briefs.

The Florida Senate submitted a filing arguing that the initiatives should be dismissed since they won’t be on the ballot in 2022.

“If an initiative no longer meets these standards with its review, then the court no longer has jurisdiction to proceed with its review,” wrote Senate General Counsel Jeremiah Hawke in a filing.

In theory, the Senate shouldn’t have an opinion on these issues. But the legislators did pass the gaming compact that would give a virtual monopoly on the sports betting market to the Seminole Tribe.

On the other hand, Florida Voters in Charge argued that dismissal would undermine the legal process already in place.

“This court’s mandatory jurisdiction in initiative-review cases is triggered by a signature threshold entirely independent of the signature threshold for ballot placement in a given year,” wrote Jesse Panuccio, the attorney representing Florida Voters in Charge. “Departing from this court’s precedent would call into question the review process employed since 1988.”

Court will likely release its ruling in 2024

The court ultimately sided with the sponsors of the initiatives and keeps the ability to review them. But it will be a while before they release their judgment on the proposals.

Justices will issue a written opinion no later than April 1 of the year they will be submitted to voters. Therefore, we could be waiting until 2024 before the court releases its judgment on the issues.

Expect continued opposition from the Seminoles

The Seminole Tribe was a major force in keeping these initiatives from getting to Florida voters this year. The tribe funded a PAC of its own to oppose the signature-gathering efforts.

The Seminoles donated $10 million to a PAC called Standing Up for Florida and spent an additional $4 million on an advertising campaign. The advertising campaign produced short videos designed to sway public opinion on the issue.

Las Vegas Sands filed a lawsuit against the Seminoles over the practices. The suit claimed that the tribe was paying petition gathering firms to not work in Florida. In addition, it claimed the tribe was hiring workers to interfere and intimidate petition gatherers.

The case was dropped at the beginning of April. But it’s likely the Seminole Tribe will continue to fight against these initiatives in 2024.

Photo by Shutterstock / Leremy
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Steve Schult

As Managing Editor of PlayFL, Steve will stay on top of all things related to the Florida gaming industry. He is also a veteran of the gambling world. The native New Yorker started covering high-stakes tournaments in 2009 for some of poker's most prominent media outlets before adding the broader U.S. gaming market to his beat in 2018.

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