The Phoenix Flyer

Sports-betting campaign bets to win as deadline to gather signatures approaches

By: - December 29, 2021 10:38 am

Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The campaign to let voters decide next year whether to legalize sports betting statewide is on track, its proponents insist, notwithstanding appearances to the contrary.

Florida’s Division of Elections reports the campaign to amend the Florida Constitution in 2022 has collected fewer than one-third of the 891,589 validated petition signatures it will need within the next 30 days and change to be published on the 2022 general election ballot.

But that represents only the number of signatures that have been validated so far in Florida’s 67 local elections offices, and not necessarily all that have been collected.

Campaign spokeswoman Christina Johnson told reporters there are plenty more in line to be validated, although she would not offer an estimate.

“We are confident we will have enough signatures to meet the Feb. 1, 2022, deadline,” Johnson said in a prepared statement.

The effort to pass initiative 21-13, run by a political action committee called Florida Education Champions, is bankrolled by more than $37 million from DraftKings and FanDuel, two of the world’s largest sports-betting companies. They have made huge campaign donations more than once this year — an indication they consider this campaign a good bet.

Through Wednesday, the Division of Elections reported that nearly 240,000 petition signatures had been validated, about 650,000 short. With the deadline approaching, elections officials throughout the state will continue checking petition signatures to validate that they are from registered Florida voters.

“They are working diligently to validate large quantities of petitions already in their offices,” Johnson said in the statement.

The proposed amendment would allow digital and on-site sports-betting statewide without regard to a gambling compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida that gave the tribe exclusive control of sports betting. The compact was negotiated by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Tribal Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. and ratified by the Florida Legislature in May.

DeSantis touted it as a signature achievement that would tap $500 million of gambling revenue yearly for state coffers. Anti-gambling interests and pro-sports-betting interests that would like to compete with the tribe both fought the compact, saying it violates state and federal laws that restrict gambling off tribal property.

A federal judge agreed and struck it down on Nov. 23, three weeks after the Seminole Tribe launched its sports-betting digital app. On Dec. 4, the tribe shut it down. The ruling is under appeal.

Meanwhile, courts are grappling with claims that the tribe is attempting to derail petition drives for this campaign and for two others that seek to authorize additional casinos in Florida — all of which would erode the exclusive rights granted to the tribe in the compact.

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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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