FL Gambling Initiatives Lack Support From Voters, Seminoles Say “Thanks”

Written By Steve Schult on March 11, 2022 - Last Updated on May 27, 2022
FL gambling initiatives

With opposing FL gambling initiatives nearly dead, the Seminole Tribe is thanking voters for not supporting them.

The tribe is running a 30-second advertisement that is airing on both television and internet platforms in the state that is thanking the people of Florida for keeping non-Florida gambling companies from entering the market.

“Despite spending over $100 million, the outside gaming petitions fell short because the partnership between the tribe and Floridians is stronger than ever,” the narrator in the ad said.

Last May, the Seminole Tribe came to an agreement with Gov. Ron DeSantis on a new, 30-year gaming compact. The deal would allow for expanded gaming options at both Seminole-owned casinos and pari-mutuels. Additionally, it would legalize both online and brick-and-mortar sports betting.

However, other companies saw the expansion efforts and wanted a piece of the action. With a population of nearly 21.5 million people, Florida could easily become one of the country’s largest gaming markets.

Who was backing opposing FL gambling initiatives?

There were two FL gambling initiatives circulating through the Sunshine State that served as direct competition to the new Seminole compact.

One was trying to bring a more free-market approach to the online sports betting market. The other was vying for casino expansion.

FanDuel and DraftKings combined to donate more than $37 million to a political action committee called Florida Education Champions.

The PAC proposed a constitutional amendment that would force tax revenue from Florida sports betting to help fund the state’s education programs.

Furthermore, the amendment would allow betting at professional sports venues and pari-mutuel facilities. As a result of offering sports betting at those facilities, entities like FanDuel and DraftKings could open sportsbooks in Florida.

Casino giant Las Vegas Sands Corp took similar action in an effort to bring non-Seminole casinos to the state. Las Vegas Sands donated $73.5 million to a PAC called Florida Voters in Charge.

The PAC was also trying to pass an amendment to the state constitution to allow for new Florida casinos as long as they were at least 130 miles from an existing Seminole-owned property.

Based on the amendment requirements, it was speculated that Las Vegas Sands was trying to build a new property in Jacksonville.

Why did these initiatives fail?

Passing a constitutional amendment is a two-step process in Florida.

First, the PACs needed to gather enough signatures to get the amendment on the ballot in November. Second, 60% of the voters need to check the “yes” box at the polls.

Ultimately, both PACs failed to clear the first hurdle. Neither could hit the nearly 1 million signatures needed to get in front of voters in November.

In a press release, Florida Education Champions said the pandemic was the main reason for failing in the signature-gathering step.

However, it appears at least the sports betting efforts won’t stop. On a February earnings call, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said he was “very confident” the issue would be on the ballot in 2024.

The initiatives also faced pushback from the Seminoles themselves.

The tribe donated $10 million to a PAC called Standing Up for Florida and spent an additional $4 million on an advertising campaign. Both were used to sway public opinion on the issue.

In response, Las Vegas Sands filed a lawsuit against the Seminoles over the practices. The suit claims that the tribe was paying petition gathering firms to not work in Florida. In addition, it claims the tribe was hiring workers to interfere and intimidate petition gatherers.

Seminole-backed gaming compact still faces legal problems

Both those initiatives were taking place while the DeSantis-Seminole gaming compact was facing legal trouble.

The deal would allow Seminole casinos to expand their offerings to include games like craps and roulette. In exchange, the pari-mutuel facilities would be able to offer house-backed card games similar to blackjack.

For sports betting, the compact used a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model that made the tribe the centerpiece of the market.

Only the Seminole Tribe would be allowed to offer online betting. All pari-mutuel facilities would be allowed to run brick-and-mortar sportsbooks.

But they would do so as a contracted vendor of the tribe. The tribe would receive 40% of gross sports betting revenue from those properties. The tribe would pay the state tax out of those funds.

The Havenick family, which owns a pair of pari-mutuel facilities in Florida, felt the sports betting model violated federal law and filed a pair of lawsuits against the compact.

A judge tossed the state-level lawsuit out of court in October. But a federal judge agreed with the owners of Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room in November.

The Seminoles launched their online sportsbook for just a few weeks in November before they were forced to shutter operations in the wake of the ruling.

The tribe said they would appeal the decision. The deadline for the appeals process is Monday, March 21.

Photo by Shutterstock / tomertu
Steve Schult Avatar
Written by
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.

View all posts by Steve Schult