Disney donated $500,000 to a campaign opposing casino expansion in Florida last month, according to the state’s Division of Elections website.

Disney increases financing of anti-gambling expansion committee

Disneyworld Orlando is one of the world’s most visited attractions and The Walt Disney Company is the most powerful mover in Florida’s tourism sector. But is its position on gambling ethical or merely protectionist? (Image: Walt Disney Company)

The beneficiary of the windfall, political action committee “Voters in Charge,” is pushing to pass a constitutional amendment that would give Florida voters the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.”

The campaign is spearheading the Voter Control of Gambling Amendment which seeks to curtail the power of Tallahassee politicians and gambling lobbyists to pass legislation that would increase casino gambling opportunities in the Sunshine State.

“It is time to restore the time-honored standard of requiring voter approval for any casino-style gambling,” it declares on its website.

Last month’s donation brings the total the Walt Disney Company has spent supporting Voters in Charge to $1.15 million since April.

The committee requires 766,200 valid petition signatures for its cause to be added to the ballot in November 2018. To date, it has submitted 151,476, according to the Division of Elections site.

Morality or Protectionism?

Disneyworld in Orlando is the world’s eighth-most visited tourist attraction, with 17.5 million visitors per year (the Las Vegas Strip, ironically, is the first), which makes Disney a powerhouse in Florida, holding sway over the state’s tourism industry, and it wants to keep it that way.

It is especially reluctant to countenance the kind of competition it believes is at odds with its family-friendly ethos, like casino gambling.

But this anti-gambling stance has, in the past, led to accusations of hypocrisy, since Disney owns the rights to franchises like Star Wars and Marvel, which have been heavily licensed over the years as slots and gambling machines.

In 2013, at a time when LVS boss Sheldon Adelson was lobbying heavily to build a resort in Florida, LVS COO Mike Leven suggested Disney’s position was one of pure anti-competition and protectionism dishonestly dressed up as a moral standpoint.

“Disney’s internecine warfare against integrated resorts in Florida under this pretence demeans them significantly,” he said.

Phasing Out of Marvel and Star Wars Slots

The entertainment giant evidently took note because it quickly announced it would begin phasing out Star Wars and Marvel-themed slots and would refrain from renewing any such licensing deals once the existing ones expire.

Earlier this year, Florida legislators attempted to pass a wide-ranging gambling reform package that would, among other things, have expanded slots throughout the state, but the pro-expansion Senate failed to find a workable compromise with the more conservative House.

As well as contending with the Walt Disney Company, pro-expansion lawmakers face opposition from the powerful Seminole tribe, which enjoys a monopoly on casino gambling through its chain of Hard Rock casinos.