Florida Gaming Expansion Initiative Challenged by State Attorney General

Posted on: January 10, 2022, 11:48h. 

Last updated on: January 10, 2022, 01:39h.

A group in Florida working to expand gaming in the Sunshine State is inching closer to forcing a ballot referendum in November. But the state’s chief legal advisor believes the initiative might run afoul of the law.

Florida gaming expansion casino Seminole Las Vegas Sands
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody speaks at a news conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis in April of 2021. Moody has asked the state Supreme Court to look into whether a referendum effort regarding expanded gambling is just in the eyes of the law. (Image: AP)

When it comes to changing the status quo of gaming in Florida, nothing is easy. “Florida Voters in Charge” (FVC), a political action committee funded by Las Vegas Sands, is becoming well aware of that reality.

FVC is behind the “Limited Authorization of Casino Gaming Initiative” (Initiative #21-15). If the campaign secures the necessary signatures required to force the referendum, Floridians would be asked if they wish to allow parimutuel card clubs to add casino games like slot machines and blackjack. If the referendum passes with a supermajority, companies like Sands could pursue commercial casino licenses.

A vital caveat, however, is that cardrooms must be located at least 130 miles in a straight line away from any of the seven Seminole tribal casinos. Cardrooms would additionally need to invest a minimum of $250 million into their properties to qualify for a casino permit.

Sands, which has poured $27 million into the FVC effort to end the Seminoles’ monopoly on Vegas-style gambling, has expressed interest in developing an integrated resort in Jacksonville.

State Challenge

Ballot referendums need 891,589 resident signatures validated by the state before the question can go to the polls in 2022. Lee says FVC currently has 425,523 valid signatures, meaning the campaign is nearly at the halfway point. Roughly 20 days remain before the Feb. 1 signature-gathering deadline.

Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee confirmed recently that the state has verified enough signatures for a judicial review of Initiative #21-15 to commence.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has asked the Florida Supreme Court to review the “Limited Authorization of Casino Gaming Initiative.” Specifically, Moody has requested the high court weigh-in on whether the initiative meets state requirements, such as only having a single subject and wording that is not misleading to voters.

Florida voters in 2018 passed an amendment to the state constitution that requires election referendums to pass in order to expand commercial gambling in the state. The “Voter Control of Gambling Act” stipulates that only voters can authorize new forms of gaming.

Compact Stalled

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the Seminole Tribe struck a deal last year that amended the tribe’s Class III gaming compact to include online gaming, as well as retail and mobile sports betting. But soon after the US Department of the Interior approved the new tribal gaming terms, a federal judge ruled that the online gaming components violate the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and its necessity that tribal gaming only occurs on sovereign land.

The Seminoles and DeSantis administration argued that since the gaming computer servers are located on tribal property, iGaming and mobile sports betting are technically still being facilitated on sovereign land. The case is continuing in the US Court of Appeals.

The tribe had agreed with the governor to direct at least $500 million a year to the state under the new compact.