Florida Legislature Special Session a ‘Genuflection to the Gambling Industry,’ Says Anti-Casino Group

Posted on: April 3, 2018, 03:03h. 

Last updated on: April 3, 2018, 03:03h.

Influential Florida anti-gambling group NoCasinos has claimed the state legislature’s call for a special session to address gambling issues is “a fictional crisis manufactured by gambling lobbyists.”

John Sowinski of NoCasinos
John Sowinski of NoCasinos says the legislature’s special session is a “fictional crisis manufactured by gaming lobbyists” – and he should know. In his other role as President of Voters in Charge he has accepted $1.3 million from Florida’s most powerful gaming operator. (Image: Miami Herald)

Over the last two years, the legislature has failed to pass sweeping gambling reform packages aimed at resolving compact negotiations with the powerful Seminole tribal casino operator.

But a political committee called Voters in Charge has succeeded in pushing a proposed constitutional amendment onto the November ballot that would put all decisions related to the expansion of casino style gaming into the hands of Florida’s voters.

Having failed to negotiate an agreement with the Seminoles, lawmakers argue the Voter Control of Gambling Amendment would remove all bargaining power from the legislature, effectively handing a perpetual gambling monopoly to the tribe, which could cost the state billions in future gambling revenues.

“It’s game over for the legislature if that amendment gets on the ballot and passes,” Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) told local radio recently. “And at that point, we’ll just be spectators in the world of gaming, which will essentially be a monopoly for the Seminole Tribe.”

‘No Facts Have Changed’

The stalemate in the legislature has stemmed from the opposing consensuses in the House and Senate. The latter wants to expand slots and gaming for the state’s pari-mutuel venues, while in return offering the Seminoles exclusivity on craps. The former wants, broadly, to preserve the status quo.

But the legislature needs to find common ground if it is to forge a deal with the Seminoles that could be worth $3 billion to the state over the next seven years, and with the November ballot looming, the issue has become somewhat pressing.

Not so, says NoCasinos president John Sowinski, who described the special session as agenuflection to the gambling industry.”

“The urgency of this matter is curious, since no facts have changed since the end of session that would now make this such an enormous priority that it could merit a call for a special session of the Legislature,” he wrote in a letter to the legislature.

Backing from Disney and Seminoles

But Sowinski is also the president of Voters in Charge, which received most of its financial backing from the Disney Corporation and the Seminoles.

The Disney Corporation hasn’t always supported putting Florida voters in charge, incidentally. In 2013, it successfully lobbied against citizens in Orange County from voting on a measure that would have forced it to offer mandatory sick pay to Disney World employees.

Meanwhile, it seems the boss of NoCasinos was happy to accept $1.3 million from a powerful gambling company to fund a campaign that would effectively hand that company a gaming monopoly, to the potential detriment of funding for the state.