DraftKings and FanDuel Kicked Off Florida Ballot Initiative With $20M Investment

Written By Matthew Kredell on July 12, 2021
Florida Sports Betting Ballot Push

DraftKings and FanDuel combined to contribute $20 million to kickstart an initiative effort for online sports betting in Florida.

However, a spokesperson for the Florida Education Champions, the political action committee created to back the initiative, tells PlayFL that this won’t just be an operator-led campaign.  The committee hopes to expand to include professional sports teams, among others.

The initiative aims to create an open market for Florida online sports betting that includes professional sports venues, pari-mutuel facilities, sports betting operators authorized to conduct sports betting in at least 10 states, and the Seminole Tribe. All state tax revenue is earmarked for education.

“We expect to grow with other partners as we continue, including sports stakeholders and education stakeholders,” Christina Johnson said. “Anyone who wants to see sports betting on the ballot to give voters the choice.”

Funding Florida online sports betting initiative

Late Monday, the committee released its first finance report with each sports betting operator contributing $10 million.

The committee must report all contributions and expenditures by the 10th of every month, or the next business day.

David Johnson, chairman of Florida Education Champions, said in a press release:

“Thank you to DraftKings and FanDuel for stepping up to the plate in an incredible way to kick off our amendment process that stands to help all Floridians. Our amendment will direct hundreds of millions of additional dollars toward Florida’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund and open up the market for online sports betting to competition.”

After legislation passed in Florida this year seeking to limit contributions made to political committees to $3,000 beginning July 1, the companies looked to fully fund the effort ahead of that date.

However, a federal court judge blocked the limit as a First Amendment violation.

Petition drives for the four initiatives that qualified for the 2020 ballot cost between $4 million and $8.8 million, according to Ballotpedia.

Path forward for Florida initiative

The Florida Education Champions political action committee filed paperwork with the Florida Division of Elections in early June. The PAC then drafted a ballot title and summary for the initiative.

Once the Division assigned the initiative ballot No. 21-13 on June 23, the campaign to collect signatures began.

Here are the next steps for the initiative:

  • Over the coming months, the campaign will collect signatures through various methods. Florida Education Champions will regularly submit those signatures for approval in batches.
  • As they come in, counties verify signatures against known signatures of their residents. The signatures must come from residents of 14 of the 27 congressional districts in the state.
  • In addition to the cost of collecting signatures, the campaign pays the counties for checking signatures. The cost ranges by county from a dime up to 88 cents per signature checked. Miami-Dade County, the state’s most populous, charges 54 cents.
  • Totals for valid signatures will update here as they come in from counties. Once the initiative reaches 222,906 verified signatures, it triggers a Florida Supreme Court review of initiative language. As the review takes place, the campaign will continue to collect signatures.
  • Once approved by the court, the initiative goes full speed ahead to collecting the needed 891,603 verified signatures to make the ballot. This number is 8% of statewide votes cast in the last presidential election. To ensure reaching this total, the campaign will need to collect several hundred thousand more signatures.
  • Jan. 1 is the last chance for the campaign to submit signatures allowing 30 days for the counties to verify them.
  • Feb. 1 is the deadline for the Secretary of State to determine if the initiative meets all requirements.
  • If the initiative qualifies, a heated campaign for the November 2022 ballot begins.

Campaign to take signature gathering to sports fans

The initiative kicked off with a mail-in campaign, but that won’t be the only method through which the Florida Education Champions gather signatures.

Johnson expects the signature collecting campaign to take many routes, including setting up tables at sporting events. That’s right, Floridians might get asked if they support online sports betting providing revenue for education at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, and Jacksonville Jaguars games this fall.

The campaign started with the Florida Education Champions setting up a website where Floridians can request a petition by mail. Gatherers also will go door to door to get signatures. Signatures can’t be made electronically.

“As we get them, we’ll bundle them up and send them in so we can start building that tally,” Johnson said. “We’ll go door, email, snail mail, whatever it takes. We’ll be pretty aggressive about getting the word out.”

Why should Floridians vote for initiative?

Without an initiative, Floridians likely will have legal sports betting options soon, at least in person. Florida entered into a compact with the Seminole Tribe in May that sets up legal sports betting in Florida going through the tribe.

Johnson presented three reasons for the initiative:

  1. To allow Florida sports bettors to choose their preferred platform with which to bet.
  2. It adheres to the will of voters, who in 2018 established that Florida gambling expansions need voter approval.
  3. To generate state tax revenue that goes directly toward education.

The Seminole compact still needs federal approval. The online sports betting aspect then will need to survive legal challenges, the first of which was recently filed.

If the online sports betting provision of the compact gets invalidated for relying on servers based on tribal lands as the origin of bets placed, the initiative becomes a potential solution to carry on with online sports betting in Florida.

“Our committee, the Florida Education Champions, will be monitoring these lawsuits as they come up,” Johnson said. “They certainly have some valid concerns, and I think that’s the beauty of us moving forward with our amendment.”

Of course, the initiative also provides industry heavyweights such as DraftKings and FanDuel a guaranteed way into the market.

Johnson said there will be studies coming on the additional tax revenue the initiative could bring the state over the compact model. Some Florida lawmakers agree that more competition means more money for the state.

“If you look at some of the revenues or projected revenues from other states, they are looking at bigger numbers,” Johnson said. “I think that goes to the competition argument.”

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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