Gambling wars: Pro-casino group pauses lawsuit alleging interference by Seminole Tribe

By: - December 13, 2021 1:15 pm

Sportsbook in Las Vegas. Credit: Baishampayan Ghose, Wikipedia Commons

A pro-casino group backed by Las Vegas Sands has dropped its emergency effort to shut down an “obstruction” campaign it alleges is underway by groups backed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The fight is over voter signatures for a Constitutional amendment drive.

In Florida’s gambling wars, it appears that all new gambling initiatives are stalled or dead, despite tens of millions of dollars being contributed and spent to get them legalized. Still, with billions in profits at stake and high rollers bankrolling the efforts, anything could happen.

In the latest development, the pro-casino group backed by Las Vegas Sands and headed by the political action committee “Florida Voters In Charge” filed motions Saturday in Leon County Circuit Court withdrawing its request for emergency hearings to block the poaching of workers it hired to gather voter signatures required to place its pro-casino constitutional amendment on the 2022 ballot. It did not withdraw the lawsuit, only the requests for emergency action.

The alleged poaching is attributed to a group headed by the political action committee “Standing Up For Florida,” which is backed by the Seminole Tribe.

A hearing in the case that was set for Tuesday is cancelled.

The pro-casino group sued a group connected with the Seminole Tribe, alleging that the second group is blocking its efforts by hiring away signature gatherers hired by Florida Voters In Charge and its associates.

The Seminole Tribe has contributed $15 million to a PAC called Standing Up For Florida, and Seminole Gaming, a branch of the Tribe, has contributed $10 million to another PAC, called “Voters In Control.”

Both PACs supported by the Tribe, are founded by the same officers, and both oppose passage of any constitutional amendments that would revoke or dilute its statewide monopoly over sports betting and other new gambling as granted by its compact with the State of Florida.

The compact was negotiated in April between Gov. Ron DeSantis and Tribal Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. The Legislature ratified it in special session in May.

The compact is in limbo, having been struck down by a U.S. federal court and with appeals under way. The tribe launched its sports-betting operations Nov. 1 but has since suspended them.

In court filings and testimony last week, attorneys for the group backed by the Seminole Tribe did not deny the allegations but characterized them as free-market competition in which employees are free to choose to work for the employer that makes them the best offer. Florida Voters In Charge alleged the offers included paying poached signature gatherers up to $7,000 to physically leave the state until the Feb. 1 deadline for certifying signatures has passed.

On Monday, the Florida Division of Elections reported Florida Voters In Charge had collected 249,168 valid voter signatures. To appear on the 2022 ballot, it requires 891,589 signatures to be submitted for verification by Dec. 30, ahead of the Feb. 1 cutoff.

The effort is backed by Las Vegas Sands, which contributed more than $27 million, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, based in Atmore, Ala., which contributed $1 million.

A separate constitutional amendment drive, No. 21-13, is titled “Authorizes sports and event betting; if betting revenues are taxed, taxes must supplement public education.” It proposes that sports betting be legalized statewide, regardless of the State of Florida’s gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe.

The political action committee pushing that amendment for the 2022 ballot is called Florida Education Champions. It is bankrolled by FanDuel and DraftKings, global gambling corporations. State campaign records through Nov. 30 show that DraftKings had donated $22.7 million to the campaign and FanDuel had contributed $14.5 million.

That campaign has collected 173,451 valid signatures by Monday, far short of the 891,589 required.

A third amendment, No. 21-15, also proposed by Florida Voters In Charge, seeks to expand casino gambling but appears abandoned, having submitted only 175 of the requisite voter signatures.

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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.