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Gambling interests eyeing Florida’s 2022 ballot

Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 3:57 PM CDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - The signing of an exclusive, 30-year gambling deal, including sports betting, with the Seminole Tribe has major out-of-state companies seeking to expand gambling on the 2022 ballot. Tens of millions are already earmarked for petition gathering efforts for at least three amendments.

Big out-of-state interests are bankrolling efforts to create more gambling here after they were shut out by the new Seminole Tribe gaming compact this year.

“This is the agreement,” Governor Ron DeSantis said moments after signing the compact. “No Casinos” President John Sowinski suggests they don’t have Florida’s best interests at heart.

“A lot of gambling interests looked at that and said they would rather have a free for all for what happens in Florida,” Sowinski said.

More than $60 million flowed to campaigns in June.

Las Vegas Sands put $17 million behind two proposed amendments. It hasn’t decided which to push, but one would allow three new casinos. The other would allow a casino somewhere between Jacksonville and Pensacola, with Jacksonville the top choice. Sowinski says a new casino will hurt where ever it’s located.

“Whatever the form of gambling is that’s introduced, it doesn’t generate new money. It simply diverts discretionary spending from bars, restaurants, movie theaters,” Sowinski said.

Neither idea violates the Native American gaming deal. Not so with another proposal to allow sports betting, which the Seminole Tribe got exclusive rights to in the new compact.

If it passes, the tribe would lower its payments to the state.

The amendment on sports betting was already being anticipated by the Governor on the day he signed the new compact.

“We’re not authorizing that. That’s a referendum, so you could deduct the payment from that portion, but still have the other stuff,” the Governor said this past April.

The Seminole Tribe says it will spend its Florida money to stop the amendments, while FanDuel and Draft Kings each pitched in $10 million.

Then there is another $15 million from the owners of a south Florida casino to a campaign that doesn’t even exist yet. Ironically, all the money is likely to create a bidding war for signatures, making each campaign more expensive in the end.

The rush to fund the amendments is because a new law limits contributions to amendment gathering efforts, but on the day it took effect, July 1st, a judge granted an injunction, erasing the $3,000 contribution limit, at least temporarily.