Florida Amendment 3, known as the “Voter Approval of Casino Gambling Initiative,” purports to be a way for Sunshine State voters to better take control of the legislative process. In reality, it could cripple any new gambling expansion – and subsequent tax revenues - in the nation’s third-most populated market. It would also benefit two influential Florida entities at the possible expense of a wide range of other organizations in the state.
Florida Amendment 3 would change the state constitution to prevent the Florida legislature from passing any bill relating to gambling. That means gambling laws would be frozen where they are as of November, 2018. Any new law would be subject to statewide approval through a subsequent ballot measure.
There are 120 members of the state House of Representatives and 40 members of the Senate. These 160 lawmakers, as well as the governor’s office, have worked in the past to discuss and pass gambling legislation.
Conversely, there are about 20 million Florida residents as of fall 2018, of which around 13 million are registered to vote. One of the most culturally and politically diverse states in the nation, it is hard to reach consensus among these voters on nearly any issue in Florida. Most political observers realize passage for a voter referendum makes any resident-led initiatives to change laws would be incredibly difficult.
That means passage of Amendment 3 could all but end any future gambling changes in Florida.
According to the Florida Division of Elections, the text is as follows:
”This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling by requiring that in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law, it must be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution. Affects articles X and XI. Defines casino gambling and clarifies that this amendment does not conflict with federal law regarding state/tribal compacts.”
Florida has no sports betting bill on the books and would fall under the restrictions set forth in Amendment 3. That means any sports betting legalization would have to be approved by voters in a referendum. As mentioned earlier, this could be a tall task for a state with as many differentiative views and competing interests as Florida.
The amendment is financially supported almost entirely by two of the most influential groups in the state: the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Disney. Though they have very different reasons to support Amendment 3, they have combined to donate nearly $35 million of the approximately $37 million raised.
The Seminole Tribe is an obvious supporter. The Seminoles have a de facto monopoly on state gambling, with only limited competition from commercial gaming facilities. A “yes” on Amendment 3 would effectively enshrine their control over gambling into the state constitution.
Disney has donated money as part of an ongoing push to keep gambling out of the state. The company worries gambling hurts the state’s “family friendly” tourism industry. Perhaps more significantly, gambling presents a competitor to state tourism dollars: the more money spent at casinos means, in theory, less money at Disney properties.
Though the organization leading the “yes” vote, Voters in Charge, presents its campaign in marketing materials as a way to promote voter control, the financial backers are more indicative of the real aim of the bill. What appears to be a way to expand Floridians’ political autonomy is in reality a way for a group that benefits from existing gambling laws and a group opposed to any form of gambling expansion to further their own aims.
Though it has raised just a fraction of the money as compared to the “yes” vote, the “no” vote has a wide variety of backers. Among the biggest backers, not surprisingly, are the state’s non-Seminole gaming interests, including Flagler Greyhound Track and Hialeah Park. Daily Fantasy provider FanDuel also sent out an email to all players to vote no.
Multiple non-gambling groups have also supported the “no” vote, seeing a “yes” vote as a possible restriction of future state tax revenues from gambling. State gambling interests, especially the lottery, have contributed hundreds of millions to state coffers, most notably the state education fund. A “yes” vote would effectively limit gambling and subsequently a new potential revenue stream.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers donated $500,000 to support the “no vote” and groups like the American Legion of Florida have taken a public stance against Amendment 3.
A majority of the state’s leading newspaper editorial boards have also come out against 3, with most citing the proposal as a way to indirectly take power away from voters and put more in control of Disney and the Seminoles. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Tallahassee Democrat have all supported the “no” vote.
Florida constitutional amendments require a 60 percent “yes” vote in order to be ratified.
Polls have been inconsistent, but there does appear to be momentum toward the “no” vote. The Florida Chamber of Commerce, which has come out in favor of Amendment 3, reports that 54 percent of voters are in support of the measure in a poll earlier this month, short of the 60 percent needed to pass. That is compared to several other polls earlier this year that showed support north of 70 percent.
A lot can change obviously before Election Day, but there seems to be support for the “no” vote despite the lopsided spending advantage for the “yes” campaign. Opponents are now launching counter adds to the proponents, which may further shift perspectives.
A bigger hurdle to clear for the "yes" campaign may be the 60 percent threshold. Since voters approved the higher standard during a 2006 ballot measure, several proposals have received majority support but not enough to clear the three-fifths requirement.
Florida, along with the other 49 states, will hold elections on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Polls are open in the state from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. More information about polling place location, early voting and absentee voting are available through the Florida Division of Elections.