Florida Politics Driving ‘Musical Chairs’ At Gaming Control Commission, Expert Says

Written By Jason Jarrett on August 21, 2023
Florida Gaming Control Commission seeing constant turnover.

After the state’s top gambling control head resigned for the third time in 11 months, one Florida gaming expert believes the turnover is just a case of a political revolving door.

Florida Gaming Control Commission chairperson Charles Upton submitted his resignation last week, less than five months after he was tabbed for the position. His departure marked the third time since the commission’s inception that the position has been vacated.

Upton, a Tallahassee lawyer, was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in March to lead the commission, established by the Legislature in 2021 to regulate all gambling in Florida. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

A prominent Florida gaming law specialist believes the constant turnover at the top of the commission reflects how quickly it was formed last year.

“The gaming commission was put together so fast by the Legislature that I think everyone should have expected a shakeout period, which is what we’ve been seeing,” said Bob Jarvis, a gambling law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.

Formation and detail of the Gaming Control Commission

The FGCC was put together to enforce the state’s gaming regulations. Those responsibilities include regulating licensed wagering activities – slot machine facilities, pari-mutuels and card rooms. The commission also oversees state gaming revenue and the compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Additionally, it enforces all laws against illegal gambling. In 2022, the gaming commission took aim at illegal slot machines.

The commission would presumably oversee commercial sports betting in Florida if companies such as DraftKings or FanDuel enter the market. In 2022, an initiative allowing Floridians to vote on the option for commercial sports betting failed to get on the ballot. There has yet to be any similar effort before the deadlines to get on the 2024 ballot.

Commission members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate for four-year terms. The commissioner oversees the FGCC and could serve up to 12 years in the role.

FGCC chair’s short history

Julie Brown served as the commission’s first chair after being tabbed by DeSantis in its formative stages. Brown was Florida’s secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation when named.

She left the post after a couple of months, and DeSantis named John MacIver, then general counsel for the Florida Department of Financial Services, the new head. MacIver resigned in January when DeSantis appointed him to the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach. Upton replaced MacIver in March. His departure had been rumored for weeks, according to the Tampa Bay Times, after his name was removed from the commission’s website.

The turnover at the FGCC, which assumed regulatory oversight in July 2022, could just be chalked up to Florida politics, Jarvis said.

“Julie Brown always struck me as a placeholder, and I expected she would leave after a few months,” Jarvis said. “John MacIver would have stayed but, of course, got appointed to the bench. Charles Upton is a head-scratcher – there might be something going on, but it also could be something innocuous, such as a health issue or a desire to spend more time on his law firm.

“DeSantis has such a strict litmus test for all his appointees that a lot of qualified people for all sorts of Florida government positions can’t be considered. Thus, he’s got a relatively small pool of people and is constantly playing musical chairs.”

Jason Jarrett Avatar
Written by
Jason Jarrett

Jason is the managing editor PlayFL.com and eight other states' websites, covering sports betting and gambling in the two states. He has more than 25 years of journalism experience, spending nearly 10 years as a senior editor at the Austin American-Statesman.

View all posts by Jason Jarrett