Two-Front Gambling War Rages In Florida As Seminoles Defend Turf

January 14, 2022
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Already battling DraftKings and FanDuel on internet sports betting, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has launched a vigorous counterattack this week against the largest commercial casino company in the world, Las Vegas Sands.

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Already battling DraftKings and FanDuel on internet sports betting, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has launched a vigorous counterattack this week against the largest commercial casino company in the world, Las Vegas Sands.

Standing Up For Florida, a political action committee (PAC) funded by the Seminoles, accused Las Vegas Sands of illegally gathering signatures to put a casino expansion initiative on the Sunshine State’s election ballot in November.

The Las Vegas Sands’ initiative would allow pari-mutuel cardrooms in northeast Florida to offer casino games if cardroom owners spend at least $250m to refurbish infrastructure.

“The Constitution of Florida is under attack,” wrote William Shepherd, an attorney representing the Seminole PAC.

In 2019, Florida passed a law banning payments to signature gatherers based on the number of signatures they collect.

Signature collectors in Florida can still be paid by the hour, but the Las Vegas Sands PAC is paying for the number of signatures collected, according to the Seminoles.

Las Vegas Sands’ spokesman Ron Reese declined to comment.

Shepherd submitted documents on Monday to Leon County Judge Angela Dempsey and requested a court order “to prevent election fraud” by Las Vegas Sands.

Dempsey is expected to schedule a hearing in Tallahassee for next week in the dispute.

Shepherd’s documents amounted to a counterclaim against a lawsuit filed last month by Las Vegas Sands against the Seminoles.

On December 1, Las Vegas Sands’ PAC — Florida Voters in Charge — sued the Seminoles for allegedly hiring individuals to engage in “concerted and aggressive efforts to harass and intimidate individuals who are exercising their legal right to obtain signatures necessary to place a citizen initiative on the Florida 2022 ballot.”

Although the Seminoles deny the harassment and intimidation charges, Florida law does not prohibit the tribe from paying signature gatherers to stop working for Las Vegas Sands, according to a Florida legal source who requested anonymity.

In the documents he submitted on Monday, Shepherd urged Judge Dempsey to reject “illegally obtained signatures” by Las Vegas Sands’ operatives in Florida.

As of late Thursday, the website of the Florida Division of Elections showed Florida Voters in Charge had collected 497,411 valid signatures.

On January 7, Florida attorney general Ashley Moody asked the Florida Supreme Court to examine the Las Vegas Sands initiative after it had surpassed the total of 222,898 signatures required for judicial review.

To get on the ballot, the Las Vegas Sands’ casino initiative will require 891,589 signatures, which is 8 percent of the total votes cast in Florida during the 2020 presidential election.

“I think Sands’ chances of getting on the November ballot are pretty close to zero, barring some massive dump of verified signatures at the last minute or they somehow manage to get an extension of time,” said John Holden, an assistant professor of business at Oklahoma State University and a former visiting scholar at Florida State University.

“Even if the measure does somehow end up on the ballot, it faces very long odds of passing,” Holden said.

The outlook for DraftKings and FanDuel in Florida may be even bleaker even though they had collected 331,077 valid signatures as of Thursday (January 13) for their sports-betting initiative.

That is just over 37 percent of the total required by February 1.

Moreover, the Seminoles may be even more active in opposing the sports-betting initiative of DraftKings and FanDuel than they are in fighting the Las Vegas Sands’ casino proposal.

“Gathering nearly 900,000 signatures is incredibly hard. Doing it during a pandemic is almost impossible,” Holden said.

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