The Seminole Tribe is amid a legal battle about how a Florida sports betting industry would operate. However, a major gambling operator is using the court system to take aim at the tribe’s monopoly on Florida casinos.
Last year, Las Vegas Sands Corp. donated approximately $73 million to a political action committee called Florida Voters In Charge. The PAC used that money to fund a ballot initiative to get casino expansion on the ballot this November.
The proposal would allow for gambling operators to open Las Vegas-style casinos in Florida as long as the property was at least 130 miles away from a Seminole-owned casino. Only the tribe can spread most house-backed casino games under the current Florida laws.
Several local media outlets reported last summer that the Las Vegas Sands-backed PAC received enough signatures for the issue to be on the 2022 ballot.
But at the start of February, the Divisions of Elections only validated 814,212 signatures on the petition. The process requires 891,589 to get in front of voters. Therefore, the issue will be shelved for at least two years.
LV Sands claims foul play over the expansion of Florida casinos
Florida Voters in Charge started legal action against the Seminoles before they officially fell short of the signature total. Last December, Las Vegas Sands Corp. filed a lawsuit claiming the Tribe interfered with the signature-gathering process.
The tribe was backing a PAC of their own called Standing Up for Florida. The PAC used media campaigns to help curb any enthusiasm for Sands’ ballot initiative.
But the suit claimed the PAC did more than just advertise. It alleged that the Seminoles paid petition gatherers to stop collecting signatures.
As cited in the lawsuit:
“In addition to their coordinated harassment and intimidation campaigns, parties acting on behalf of the Seminole Tribe are ‘paying off’ contracted petition circulators as part of a scheme to ensure such circulators do not perform the tasks they have been contracted to provide to the plaintiffs.”
The suit sought unspecified monetary damages and sought to stop any further interference. Ultimately, the court didn’t force the PAC or the tribe to change their actions.
Florida Judge denies deadline extension
Shortly after the Divisions of Elections sent the bad news to Florida Voters in Charge, the PAC filed for an extension. The committee asked Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper to extend the deadline for the ballot initiative.
Cooper wouldn’t grand the extension and the PAC filed an appeal. They dropped the appeal last week but are still fighting a legal battle against the state for its signature verification process.
Florida Voters in Charge take aim at Secretary of State
After court battles failed to stop Seminole-backed intervention, Florida Voters in Charge filed another suit. This time against Secretary of State Laurel Lee.
Part of Lee’s duties as Secretary of State includes overseeing the state’s election process. Since Las Vegas Sands was using the electoral process to expand the casino industry, she is the defendant in their latest suit.
The complaint states that “tens of thousands of signatures” that should’ve been counted were not. According to the suit, those signatures were rejected without giving voters the opportunity to correct any mistakes made in the verification process.
Last month, Cooper allowed attorneys for Standing Up for Florida to get involved in the suit. Their legal team argued that Florida Voters in Charge were aware that there were no guarantees that the petitions would be processed if they were submitted after January 3.
Chances for expansion of Florida casinos don’t look good for this year
The legal process will likely take quite some time for it to play out, regardless of the outcome. Therefore, the ruling will have basically no effect on the 2022 ballot. It means that 2024 will be the earliest that Florida voters can decide if they want non-Seminole casinos in the Sunshine State.
Las Vegas Sands CEO Rob Goldstein told the Las Vegas Review-Journal earlier this month that he was pessimistic about the chances of a Florida casino expansion happening this year. But is optimistic about the future.
“In Florida, we failed recently. We had a disappointing outcome, but I think it’s in the early innings. We will be in Florida, in my opinion. It’s just a question of when it happens.”