The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same For Florida Gaming

February 3, 2022
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The failure of two high-profile ballot initiatives on casinos and sports betting, plus a federal court ruling against a landmark tribal gaming compact, means it is almost as if Florida has become the gaming industry’s enigmatic Sphinx.

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The failure of two high-profile ballot initiatives on casinos and sports betting, plus a federal court ruling against a landmark tribal gaming compact, means it is almost as if Florida has become the gaming industry’s enigmatic Sphinx.

Just as the expression of the Sphinx never changes, nothing seems to change the gaming landscape in the Sunshine State.

After all the sound and the fury of the last nine months, the historic Seminole Compact is dormant and sports betting remains as elusive as ever.

If Rip Van Winkle fell asleep one year ago in Florida and woke up today, he probably could not tell any difference in gaming operations.

The death knell for Florida gaming expansion tolled on Tuesday (February 1) when the Florida Division of Elections reported 814,212 signatures supporting a Las Vegas Sands-backed initiative to allow commercial casinos to enter the state’s northern region including the Jacksonville area.

Unfortunately for Las Vegas Sands, that was only 91 percent of the 891,589 signatures required to put the Nevada company’s initiative on the Florida ballot on November 8.

“As [Sands CEO] Rob Goldstein has said on previous earnings calls, the company has real interest in Florida and the market there,” Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese said in an email to VIXIO GamblingCompliance.

“I’ll decline comment at this time as it relates to our specific plans and strategies,” Reese said.

The casino operator already has filed a lawsuit requesting more time to collect the 77,377 signatures needed to make the ballot.

The setback in Florida for the world’s largest casino company comes on the heels of last year’s failure in Texas where Las Vegas Sands paid 74 lobbyists more than $10m and came up empty handed in an unsuccessful bid to legalize commercial casinos in the Lone Star State.

The Las Vegas Sands-backed political action committee, Florida Voters in Charge, spent more than $46m on the ballot effort in Florida through the end of December, according to state campaign finance records.

That is even more than the $36m spent by a lobbying coalition of DraftKings and FanDuel in attempting to put an initiative to establish a competitive online sports-betting market on the same state-wide ballot in November.

After collecting only 514,888 valid signatures, or 57.75 percent of the 891,589 votes required, DraftKings and FanDuel faced the grim reality and abandoned their campaign for signatures on January 28, four days before the deadline.

Christina Johnson, a spokeswoman for the pair’s political action committee, Florida Education Champions, blamed COVID-19 for the disappointing outcome.

“We will be considering all options in the months ahead to ensure that Floridians have the opportunity to bring safe and legal sports betting to the state, along with hundreds of millions of dollars annually to support public education,” Johnson said.

Having contributed some $22.7m toward the effort, DraftKings also sought to spin the results of its ill-fated signature campaign.

“We are thrilled by the level of excitement that we witnessed in Florida in support of mobile sports betting during our efforts to add sports betting to the state-wide ballot,” said Griffin Finan, vice president of government affairs for DraftKings.

“With over a million individuals submitting petitions, we are more confident than ever that Floridians want the opportunity to vote on a competitive sports-betting framework and we continue to explore our options to ensure that Floridians get this opportunity as soon as possible,” Finan said.

Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the Seminole Tribe which opposed both the initiatives by Las Vegas Sands and DraftKings/FanDuel, did not respond to a request for comment.

The failure of the initiatives is a huge victory for the Seminole Tribe, which maintains its gambling monopoly in Florida.

But the Seminole Compact, which temporarily ushered in a new era of tribal-run online sports betting in Florida in November, has been overturned by federal courts in Washington, D.C. and its future is uncertain.

In addition to state-wide mobile sports wagering via servers on tribal lands, the compact authorized the Seminole Tribe to develop new casinos and add sportsbooks, craps and roulette to its existing resorts.

Bob Jarvis, a professor who teaches gaming law at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, said the Seminole Compact can still be salvaged.

“All they really need to do is jettison the mobile betting piece of the compact,” Jarvis said.

“Of course, the tribe and state are fighting to keep this piece because it makes sports betting in Florida much more lucrative.”

John Holden, a former visiting scholar at Florida State University who is an associate professor of business at Oklahoma State University, said he thinks there is a lot of support for restoring the Seminole Compact.

“I think the compact is really the only way that Florida has sports betting before 2024,” Holden said.

“This might also put some pressure of Florida’s federal legislators [in Congress] to start work on modernizing IGRA [the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988].”

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