Looking at the Florida Division of Elections website, the numbers appear dire for the sports betting initiative backed by DraftKings and FanDuel. A spokesman for the initiative says those low totals are deceiving.
The website keeps the official count of valid signatures tallied thus far. The initiative has just over 140,000 qualified petitions. It needs to reach 891,589 in less than two months to get on the November 2022 ballot.
Christina Johnson, a spokesperson for the Florida Education Champions (FEC) campaign, tells PlayFL that those totals don’t include more than 600,000 petitions currently in the hands of local election supervisors for review.
“It takes a while to verify them and post them to the Division of Elections website,” Johnson said. “That’s why we’re seeing low numbers from all the initiative campaigns.”
Of course, not all of those 600,000 petitions in the pipeline will end up being valid. In California, the retail tribal initiative that qualified for the ballot earlier this year had a validity rate of 74.4%.
So the FEC campaign will be going down to the wire trying to qualify the initiative before the Feb. 2 deadline. But Johnson still believes they are on pace to make the ballot.
“We’re confident we’ll make the ballot,” Johnson said. “We’re leaving no stone unturned, going door to door, direct mail, mobile apps, events. I don’t feel we’re behind at all. I’m confident we’ll get there, and we’re doing some things resonating well with Florida voters.”
Seminole Tribe plays hardball on signature gathering
The Division of Elections assigned the initiative to commence signature gathering on June 23. So 140,000 valid signatures is a shockingly low amount over five whole months. It hasn’t even hit the 222,898 to trigger a judicial and financial impact review.
One reason for the rocky start was an aggressive “no” campaign backed by the Seminole Tribe. Even though the initiative includes the Seminoles in its open market for Florida online sports wagering, the Tribe doesn’t want terms dictated by out-of-state sports betting companies.
According to a report from Politico, the Seminoles paid off petition gathering firms not to work in Florida. They set up a plebiscite, a petition designed to compete with the initiative even though it isn’t necessarily tied to a measure.
Groups running a campaign backed by Las Vegas Sands to expand commercial casinos in Florida filed a lawsuit based on similar tactics against their initiative.
The tribal-backed campaign also ran an ad urging Floridians not to sign gambling petitions, warning they were by out-of-state companies that wanted to turn Florida into Las Vegas.
Johnson said signature collection has picked up in recent months, evidenced by the 600,000+ petitions currently under review.
Florida sports betting initiative expenses mount
DraftKings and FanDuel certainly are pot-committed to continue the initiative campaign at this point.
According to campaign finance activity from the Division of Elections, the FEC raised $32 million and spent $16 million through October.
It appears the petition efforts will cost more than the initial $20 million contributed by DraftKings and FanDuel.
In October, DraftKings contributed another $12,712,500 to the campaign. FanDuel only added a little more than $100,000.
Campaign will press luck on late petition submissions
Although petitions need to be verified by Feb. 1, Jan. 1 is the last day for the campaign to submit signatures to counties with time for them to have the full 30 days to review.
But Johnson admits they won’t be able to stop on Jan. 1 to make the ballot. They will keep going, leaving verification up to the county’s discretion.
“If we submit petitions Jan. 15, they’ll have 30 days to verify them,” Johnson said. “But we’re hoping that realizing the Feb. 1 deadline, they’ll do it in 15 days.
With multiple proposed measures collecting signatures, some counties are backed up with petitions to validate.
Campaign strategy could change in the final month to focus on smaller counties. Johnson explained smaller counties might not have the backlog of petitions of larger counties, allowing them to verify signatures more quickly.
Johnson said the campaign will keep submitting petitions right up until the Feb. 1 deadline.
“We’ll just keep on submitting them up until the very last moment,” Johnson said. “Every petition counts, and 891,000 is a lot to get verified.”
A federal court recently ruled the compact between the Seminole and the state setting up online sports betting monopoly for the Tribe was incompatible with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Although the Tribe appealed the ruling, it may leave online sports betting void that the initiative could fill.
“We’ve got two months,” Johnson said. “We’re doing everything we can to make it, and I think we will.”