Las Vegas Sands Corp officially ended its bid for a North Florida casino during this year’s election cycle. The gaming giant ended a legal battle that was aimed at getting casino expansion on the ballot this November.
Last year, Sands backed a political action committee dubbed Florida Voters in Charge. The PAC used the $73 million donated by Sands to fund a signature-gathering process for a ballot initiative that would allow for entities other than the Seminole Tribe to operate casinos in Florida.
The proposal would allow for casinos outside of a 130-mile radius of a Seminole property. As a result of the mileage carveout, new operators would be essentially limited to the northern area of the state. The most likely landing spot for a casino would be in the city of Jacksonville.
Unfortunately for casino expansion advocates, Florida Voters in Charge fell short of the 900,000 signatures needed by Feb. 1.
The Seminole Tribe has the exclusive rights to spread traditional casino games in the state.
With their virtual monopoly on casinos at risk, the tribe funded a PAC called Standing Up for Florida. The group used media campaigns to help curb any enthusiasm for Sands’ ballot initiative.
Sands brought the North Florida casino fight to the courts
Ultimately, Standing Up for Florida did its job and kept the initiative temporarily out of the ballot box. But the Sands-backed group filed multiple lawsuits claiming foul play.
First, the PAC filed suit against the Seminoles themselves while the signature-gathering process was still ongoing.
Florida Voters in Charge argued that the Seminole-backed group did more than just run campaigns. In fact, they claim that the group interfered with the process.
The suit said that the group paid petition circulators to stop collecting signatures. Ultimately, the court didn’t force the PAC or the tribe to change their actions.
Once it was official that the proposal fell short of the signature total, Sands directed its legal battle elsewhere. The group filed for an extension on the signature deadline with the Leon County Circuit Court.
Judge John Cooper denied their extension attempt, which resulted in an appeal from Florida Voters in Charge.
Lastly, the group filed suit against Secretary of State Laurel Lee. She is responsible for overseeing the state’s election process. Therefore, she would be culpable for any wrongdoing during the process.
The complaint against Lee said that “tens of thousands of signatures” were valid, but not counted. The suit stated that signatures were rejected without giving voters the opportunity to correct mistakes in the verification process.
Sands eventually stopped all formal legal proceedings
Last Friday, the PAC withdrew its lawsuit from the Leon County Circuit Court.
Sarah Bascom, a spokesperson for Florida Voters in Charge, cited the long odds of winning the legal battle in time to get the issue on the 2022 ballot in a press release.
“The Florida Voters in Charge Committee, formed to bring casino gaming and its accompanying economic development benefits to the North Florida region, has begun the process of winding down the committee and its efforts for the 2022 election cycle. While the committee believes that it submitted more than the required number of voter signatures to make the 2022 ballot, the various obstacles the committee would have to overcome in order to vindicate those voters and make the ballot – the most recent of which is the passage of a law calling into question the availability of Supreme Court review of the ballot language – makes achievement of that goal untenable.”
A North Florida casino could be in the works for the 2024 election
By dropping the legal proceedings, Las Vegas Sands Corp effectively ended any chance at passing casino expansion this year. Thus, the 2024 election would be the earliest voters could see the issue in front of them.
The group will likely face Seminole-backed opposition in their future efforts. But Las Vegas Sands CEO Rob Goldstein told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last month that the issue was still in the “early innings” and was optimistic about voters passing the proposal two years from now.