Pari-Mutuel Ownership Group Gives $4 Million To PAC Supporting Florida Sports Betting Initiative

Written By Steve Schult on April 18, 2022
Florida sports betting initiative

The political action committee that failed to get a Florida sports betting initiative on the 2022 ballot found a new donor.

Last week, Southwest Florida Enterprises donated $4 million to Florida Education Champions. The Havenick family, which also owns Bonita Springs Poker Room and Magic City Casino, owns Southwest Florida Enterprises.

Their corporate entity, West Flagler Associates, was the first to file suit against the new Florida gaming compact.

Unlike the other lawsuit filed by Monterra AF LLC, West Flagler’s complaint was centered around the sports betting provisions in the new agreement. Monterra, on the other hand, wants to keep Class III gaming out of Seminole-owned casinos.

Prior to the donation from the Havenick family, DraftKings and FanDuel were the main sources of funding for Florida Education Champions. Last year, the two online sports betting giants gave a combined $37.5 million to the PAC.

The PAC was tasked with getting a sports betting ballot initiative in front of voters for this election cycle.

The group needed nearly 900,000 verified signatures from Florida voters to get on the ballot. But in January, the group announced it was roughly 400,000 signatures shy of meeting the goal.

Ultimately, the initiative won’t be in front of voters this year. The earliest the initiative could be on the ballot is 2024.

Funding makes sense for opponents of the gaming compact

The Havenick family already used the legal system to block the gaming compact. Using its funds to help the ballot initiative efforts is the family’s next logical step.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe agreed to a new, 30-year gaming compact last April. The deal would allow for both retail and online sports betting in the Sunshine State.

However, the Tribe was basically in control of the entire sports betting market.

The compact used a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model to implement Florida sports betting. The model allowed only the Seminole Tribe to operate an online sportsbook.

Furthermore, pari-mutuels that open a retail sportsbook would do so as contracted vendors of the tribe. The Seminoles would receive 40% of the revenue from those facilities.

The model would functionally keep gambling companies without an already existing foothold in the Sunshine State from entering the market. It would also block pari-mutuels from entering the online space.

Shortly after the compact was passed, FanDuel and DraftKings started funding the efforts for a sports betting ballot initiative. The initiative would allow for a more open marketplace. It would permit sports betting at professional sports venues, pari-mutuels and online platforms.

In essence, the initiative would end the virtual monopoly the tribe was given in the compact.

While DraftKings and FanDuel focused on the initiative, the Havenick family opted to object to it via the legal route. They filed suits at both the state and federal levels.

A U.S. District judge tossed the state-level suit out of court. But a federal judge agreed that the ‘hub-and-spoke’ model violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

With the compact held up in the legal channels, it makes sense for the Havenick family to start funding the ballot initiative.

New donation points to a bright future for the Florida sports betting initiative

Despite the ballot initiative failing in 2022, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said he was “very confident” that sports betting would be on the 2024 ballot.

Robins’ statement was a clear indication that the two companies will continue to pursue the initiative in the future. But with the Havenick family adding funds to the venture, it gives the proposal a higher likelihood of passing.

The Seminole Tribe used tens of millions of its own dollars to fight the passage of any gambling-related ballot initiative. The Seminoles will continue that trend will continue in the future, but additional funding will help mitigate those efforts.

Photo by Shutterstock / Last Leaf Studio
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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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