Florida Casino Amendment Giving Voters Gambling Expansion Authorization Gets Mixed Feedback from Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates

Posted on: August 21, 2018, 06:00h. 

Last updated on: August 21, 2018, 02:57h.

A Florida casino expansion amendment is getting some sound bite time from the Sunshine State’s gubernatorial candidates, who will find out their own fates when the August 28 primary hits. With just a week remaining before voters head to the polls, the hot topic of who gets to run which casino where is being addressed, and it’s a big-money subject indeed.

Florida governor race casino amendment
Florida Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls (from left) Andrew Gillum, Jeff Greene, Chris King, Philip Levine, and Gwen Graham have differing opinions on whether they support giving voters the exclusive power to determine gambling expansion. (Image: Brynn Anderson/AP)

Along with picking the successor to current Governor Rick Scott (R) during the general election in November, voters will be asked whether they want the exclusive power to authorize any new forms of casino gambling moving forward. A “yes” vote for Amendment 3 would strip state lawmakers of the right to expand gambling through legislation or constitutional amendments.

If 60 percent of voters back the casino amendment, the only way gaming could be expanded in Florida would be through citizen-initiated ballot measures.

Candidates Weigh In

Florida Phoenix — a nonprofit news organization that covers the state’s politics — caught up with the four leading Democratic and two Republican candidates to talk about the amendment. The GOP candidates declined to comment at all.

Republican Ron DeSantis, endorsed by President Donald Trump, now holds a double-digit lead on former GOP US representative and current state Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam. Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson recently directed $500,000 in committee money to DeSantis’ campaign, and Adelson also backed Trump.

Democratic candidate US Rep. Gwen Graham (FL) — daughter of former Florida Governor Bob Graham (D) — is the frontrunner for the party ticket (currently polling at 27 percent). She was blunt when asked if she supported Amendment 3, as well as whether she would support allowing current casinos to operate sports betting.

I am against the expansion of gambling,” Graham said twice to both questions. She leads polls slightly over Philip Levine (25 percent), the former mayor of Miami Beach. He gave a similar answer to the amendment question, saying, “No, I am against the expansion of gambling.”

These candidates appear to be mostly lined up with their constituents on the Amendment 3 issue: a recent independent survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research found that just eight percent of Floridians favor expanding casino gambling. Giving residents of the state veto power presumably means no casino expansion will be approved.

It’s why Disney and the Seminoles have collectively dumped more than $26 million into Voters in Charge, a nonprofit organization which obtained the necessary signatures to get the casino question on the ballot. Disney wants to keep gambling to its current limitations, and the Seminoles want to keep slot machines out of eight counties where local officials have ratified resolutions to allow the terminals.

Tallahassee Mayor and Democrat Andrew Gillum — third in the latest gubernatorial party poll  at 21 percent — says he supports Amendment 3. “I am always in favor of the voters having a say on momentous issues,” he said.

Democrat and real estate developer Jeff Greene, the other viable contender according to polls at 15 percent, said casino expansion should be left up to local communities.

Opposition Fundraising

Citizens for the Truth About Amendment 3, a committee organized to sway voters to go against the casino question, emerged earlier this month with $1 million in funding. Jacksonville Greyhound Racing and Elevated, LLC  — which offers card games that typically pit players against each other, rather than the house — both donated $500,000.

Jacksonville Greyhound Racing operates dog tracks in Jacksonville and Orange Park. Both facilities have a poker room and simulcast horse and dog racing, and jai alai. Elevated LLC describes itself as a “designated player services company” that works with racinos to operate poker games.

Though Citizens for Truth has a long way to go to match Disney and Seminole bankrolls, it received $250,000 from the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel after forming the committee. The property is owned by billionaire Jeffrey Schorr, who also controls The Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach, Florida.