FL’s competing gambling interests pour at least $62 million into PACs

By: - July 13, 2021 4:19 pm

Sportsbook in Las Vegas. Credit: Simon Ladesma, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0

Gambling-related campaign contributions flooded into Florida in June, according to campaign finance records, indicating the immensity of the gambling wealth up for grabs in the state.

On Monday, the Florida Phoenix reported that sports-betting titans FanDuel and DraftKings poured $20 million into a campaign to legalize sports betting by amending the Florida Constitution in 2022.

Tuesday, the Phoenix found at least $42 million more contributions connected to gambling-related concerns.

And the $62 million overall could just be a start.

The Phoenix looked only for donations of at least $1 million, and there may be more contributions recorded in campaign finance data under names not readily identified with gambling or sports betting. The campaign finance records are filed at the Florida Division of Elections.

The campaign records also illustrate how wealthy parties create and/or bankroll political action committees to drive public campaigns that often, confusingly, have similar titles with opposite goals or titles that seem unrelated to their purpose.

For instance, PACs created this spring to push gambling interests from opposite directions include “Voters In Control” and “Florida Voters In Charge” – which echo the name of a PAC called “Voters In Charge” that led a successful constitutional amendment campaign in 2018 to restrict expansion of gambling except by statewide referenda.

Two other PACs, Florida Education Champions and People Against Regulatory Legislation Addressing You, also are directly tied to gambling and sports betting though one would not know it just from their titles.

Big donors laid their money down for their causes just before the initiation of a new state limit on campaign contributions in support of citizen-initiated drives to amend the Florida Constitution.

Effective July 1, the new law would have limited contributions to $3,000 per campaign. However, it immediately drew a legal challenge in federal court and a judge issued an injunction temporarily blocking its enforcement.

As reported Monday, DraftKings and FanDuel – two titans in the multi-billion-dollar online sports betting industry – contributed $10 million each in late June to a sports-betting PAC named Florida Education Champions.

That PAC, created just days earlier, aims to persuade Florida voters in 2022 to legalize sports betting statewide by way of a constitutional amendment. Its title derives from its pledge to earmark sports-betting tax revenue for education.

A 30-year compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state of Florida – ratified by the Florida Legislature in mid-May but still pending federal approval – would expand the tribe’s exclusive control over sports betting by allowing bets to be placed anywhere in Florida under the auspices of the Tribe. If the compact and implementing legislation clear expected legal hurdles, sports betting under those conditions could be begin Oct. 15, in the height of football season.

In exchange for control over sports betting and other lucrative benefits, the Tribe would guarantee the state $500 million a year on average in revenue-sharing payments (at least $2.5 billion over the first five years).

DraftKings and FanDuel want in on future sports betting and oppose the Tribe having control — as demonstrated by the corporations’ large campaign contributions to the PAC asking Florida voters to legalize sports betting regardless of the proposed compact between the state and the Tribe.

Seminole Gaming, an arm of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Hard Rock International, donated $10 million to a PAC called Voters in Control, according to official records. The PAC did not self-identify its political purposes.

Another newly formed PAC called Florida Voters in Charge received $17,064,000  from Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Registered with the Florida Division of Elections in May, the PAC states its purpose this way: “Support or oppose initiatives on the Florida General Election ballot.”

Yet another new PAC titled People Against Regulatory Legislation Addressing You, reported contributions worth more than $15 million from West Flagler Associates, a Miami-based company.

West Flagler Associates is the parent company of Magic City Casino, a pari-mutuels facility in Miami, according to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Magic City Casino is party to a lawsuit filed in federal court this month aiming to strike down provisions of Florida’s proposed gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe. In particular, Magic City Casino and its co-plaintiff Bonita Springs Poker Room want the court to invalidate the provisions that give the Tribe exclusive control over which pari-mutuel facilities, if any, may conduct sports betting under terms of the tribal compact.

In 2018, West Flagler Association financially supported the Vote NO On 3 PAC attempting to prevent passage of Amendment 3, which proposed banning expansion of casino gambling in Florida except by statewide voter referenda. Amendment 3, led by the Voters In Charge PAC, passed by a large margin and continues to restrict expansion of gambling except as approved by voters.

Multi-million-dollar backers of Amendment 3 in 2018 included the Seminole Tribe and Disney Worldwide Enterprises.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]

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