On Friday, January 28, 2022, at 1:00 pm eastern time, the Florida Education Champions, the political action committee backed by FanDuel and DraftKings, announced the defeat of their initiative to get sports betting on the November 2022 ballot.
The news was not much of a shock to those watching the verified signature numbers being counted. The Florida Secretary of State’s website made those numbers available to the public in real-time. A February 1 deadline put the group about 400,000 verified signatures away from the nearly 900,000 needed to get on the ballot.
The admission of defeat came as various groups and sports betting figures had made public appeals in the past weeks. Officials pressed the importance of Floridians to pass in their signatures.
The press release
Florida Education Champions announced that in the end, the pandemic was simply too big of a hurdle to overcome to gather the necessary signatures. The group’s PR group released a statement which said:
We are highly encouraged by the level of support we saw from the more than one million Floridians who signed our petition and thank them for their efforts in wanting to bring safe and legal sports betting to Florida, while funding public education. While pursuing our mission to add sports betting to the ballot we ran into some serious challenges, but most of all the COVID surge decimated our operations and ability to collect in-person signatures. We want to thank our local Supervisors of Elections and staff members for their diligent work in verifying petitions. We will be considering all options in the months ahead to ensure that Floridians have the opportunity to bring safe and legal sports betting to the state, along with hundreds of millions of dollars annually to support public education.
The ballot measure would have proposed a constitutional amendment that authorized sports betting at professional sports stadiums, arenas, and pari-mutuel facilities. It would also permit an online presence across the state.
Looking at the numbers
The weekend before the February 1 deadline for verifying signatures, Florida Education Champions had seen 492,000 verified petitions. That accounted for more than the half necessary to meet the 891,589 threshold that Florida requires to make the ballot.
Of course, getting on the ballot was only one hurdle. After that, constitutional amendments in the Sunshine State would require a 60% threshold in order to pass.
Through their most recent campaign finance report, the group had received a little more than $37 million in campaign contributions and had just under a million dollars that had yet to be expended.
FanDuel and DraftKings were the big money
Florida Education Champions were backed primarily by FanDuel and DraftKings. Each company was initially kicking in $10 million before DraftKings contributed nearly $12.75 million more in October 2021. Following closely behind was FanDuel, throwing in nearly $4.5 million in November.
No other contributor gave more than $100 to the group as of December 29, 2021. Despite the receipts from other companies who likely would have sought to enter a competitive Florida market, the sports betting initiative did not receive financial support from the two juggernauts’ primary competitors.
While the group spent millions, the amount paid is a fraction of what the companies are rumored to be spending to advertise their products in markets where they have access already.
Doomed from the start?
The campaign, which launched in June 2021, got off to a rocky start when the initiative fired off promotional materials featuring children and drew criticism from various people who cover the gambling industry.
The initiative, of course, was coming on the heels of the Seminole Tribe of Florida‘s newly signed compact, and forthcoming mobile launch, which in its short life appeared popular and may have hurt the ability of DraftKings and FanDuel’s group to gather signatures.
Additionally, the Seminole Tribe mounted a PR campaign touting the benefits of their own agreement with the state. This agreement would see the Tribe send at least $500 million to Tallahassee each year. That’s a kind of number Florida Education Champions could never promise with guaranteed tax revenue to the state.
Is Florida Voters in Charge next to fall?
The big question that still lingers is whether Florida Voters in Charge shares the same fate. We will know if they share similarities with Florida Education Champions in the coming days. The weekend before the Tuesday, February 1 deadline for 891, 589 verified signatures, the Las Vegas Sands-backed group is still about 145,000 verified signatures away from getting on the ballot.
The Sands-backed initiative would put to the voters, for the second time in four years, a question. It asks the people to weigh in on the expansion of gambling in the state. In tracking the signatures coming through per day, it appears that the state is verifying between 12,000 and 20,000 signatures per day. If that trend holds, Florida Voters in Charge will come up short.
Even if the Sands-backed group were to reach the necessary verified signature threshold, there is ongoing litigation in Leon County. This legal action could throw a wrench into the count if a judge finds that a sub-contractor is using improper practices relating to payments per signature.
What to make of this?
In the end, despite the ballot initiatives messaging, these efforts have fallen short. The most realistic chance for sports betting to come back to the Sunshine State is through the Seminole Tribe. In tight circumstances, the ballot initiative process is simply too steep of a hill to climb.
When groups like Florida Education Champions left themselves only about 7 months to collect nearly 900,000 signatures, it’s even harder.
If sports betting happens before 2024, it will likely be through the Seminole Tribe and their Hard Rock Digital platform.