Gambling gold rush: FL OKs two more constitutional amendment drives for 2022 ballot

By: - July 16, 2021 4:17 pm
Poker chips

Credit: CD Davidson-Hiers

Florida’s race to cash in on gambling super-heated this week, with two more constitutional amendment campaigns now officially proposed for the 2022 general ballot — bankrolled by millions in out-of-state campaign donations.

The proposed amendments, both aiming to establish new casinos, are titled “Authorizes a Limited Number of New Casinos” and “Limited Authorization of Casino Gaming.”

They and another campaign that was unveiled in late June aim to remove obstacles to gambling expansion that are posed by the state’s gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and by a constitutional ban  – imposed by Amendment 3, Voter Control of Gambling, in 2018 – that prohibits expansion of gambling except by statewide voter referenda.

To appear on the 2022 ballot, the campaigns must gather 891,589 voter signatures.

The Florida Division of Elections approved the start of the two petition drives for the two campaigns, both sponsored by the political action committee Florida Voters In Charge, which received a $17 million campaign contribution from Las Vegas Sands Corp., as reported Monday.

Las Vegas Sands is a multibillion-dollar resort and casino company built and run by the late Sheldon Adelson, a Republican donor and Trump patron who died in January, according to a report by CNN Business.

The PAC’s chairperson is listed as William Spicola, at an address in Jacksonville Beach.

Here is the summary of the first of the two, listed as 21-15: “Authorizes three new casinos to conduct casino gaming. Directs the Florida Gaming Control Commission to license casinos based upon the merits of applications, and also taking into consideration job creation, location, and capital investment. Imposes limitations on location of casinos. Defines “casino” and “casino gaming.” Allows taxation and regulation of casino gaming consistent with the amendment.

The amendment would authorize up to three new casinos in Florida, as long as they are 100 miles away from tribal casinos. The gambling licenses would be subject to competitive bids, and applicants would have to pledge to spend at $500 million developing the facilities.

The second of them, listed as 21-16, is summarized this way: Authorizes businesses with active cardroom licenses as of January 1, 2022, to offer casino gaming if they meet location limitations and make minimum capital investment towards new development and construction. Authorizes such businesses to relocate within the same county prior to December 31, 2025. Defines “casino gaming.” Allows taxation and regulation of casino gaming consistent with the amendment.

This one would authorize casino gambling at up to three licensed cardrooms, but only if they are at least 130 miles away from tribal casinos and only if they pledge to spend at least $250 million developing the facility.

These are the second and third proposed constitutional amendments for the 2022 ballot unveiled in recent weeks.

On June 23, a sports-betting PAC titled Florida Education Champions was approved to begin a petition drive, titled 21-13, to legalize mobile sports betting statewide, regardless of a proposed 30-year compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida granting the tribe exclusive control of sports betting.

Florida Education Champions is bankrolled by sports-betting titans FanDuel and DraftKings, which gave $10 million each to that campaign.

In addition, a PAC titled People Against Regulatory Legislation Addressing You (PARLAY) reported a $15 million donation from West Flagler Associates, affiliated with Magic City Casino. That casino and an affiliated pari-mutuel facility have filed a lawsuit challenging provisions that grant the tribe control over which pari-mutuel facilities can host sports betting.

And, a PAC titled Voters In Control reported a $10 million contribution from Seminole Gaming.

Just ahead of a July 1 cap on making large donations, gambling interests poured $62 million into the various campaigns. The cap would have barred donations larger than $3,000 per individual per citizen- initiated campaign, prompting gambling campaigns to front-load contributions they may otherwise have given over time. The cap is temporarily suspended due to a legal challenge.

The gambling gold rush ignited when the Florida Legislature in mid-May ratified a compact negotiated between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe authorizing more casino games on tribal land and authorizing mobile sports betting statewide but only under the auspices of the tribe. Under those conditions, the tribe pledged to pay the state $500 million per year on average, for at least $2.5 billion in the first five years.

That compact is subject to federal review, because the Seminole Tribe is a federally designated tribe and a sovereign nation. A decision is due by Aug. 5.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.