Florida Battle Raging Over Sports Betting, Casino Ballot Initiatives

Florida Battle Raging Over Sports Betting, Casino Ballot Initiatives
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The Florida Seminole Tribe is paying people not to gather the signatures needed to put items on the November 2022 ballot that would expand non-tribal gaming, including mobile sports betting, across the state, according to a news report.

One proposed ballot measure would allow commercial online bookmakers, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, to operate in Florida. Another would let non-tribal card rooms add casinos to their property.

In addition to paying these signature-gathers to stop what they’re doing, the tribe also is paying people “to interfere with rival petition gatherers,” the news website Politico reported this week.

Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner said the tribe had put together a team of “the best” political consultants in opposing “multiple outside interests,” spending millions on non-tribal initiatives. He said the tribe would not retain anyone acting inappropriately.

Commercial Gaming Operators Seek Expansion

DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbook and Las Vegas Sands are spending almost $60 million combined to put two separate gaming initiatives up for a statewide vote next fall.

One initiative, spearheaded by DraftKings and FanDuel, would allow non-tribal sport-betting operators to make their mobile apps available for use anywhere in Florida.

Another item, backed by Las Vegas Sands, would allow cards rooms located more than 100 miles from Seminole casinos to add casino games. That 100-mile buffer, and tribal approval, are required under an arrangement the tribe has with the state.

These non-trial casino additions would be built mostly in North Florida, where the tribe does not have gambling halls, Politico reported.

To counter these measures, the Seminole Tribe is pumping at least $10 million into its political action committee, Voters in Control Inc., according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Judge Declares Hard Rock Sportsbook Illegal

Earlier this month, federal Judge Dabney L. Friedrich ruled that the tribe’s Hard Rock Sportsbook app, quietly unveiled Nov. 1, is illegal.

The judge’s ruling came after non-tribal groups sued to keep the Seminoles from having a monopoly on sports betting in Florida.

The judge ruled that federal law requires tribal gaming to occur only on tribal land. She said it is “fiction” to claim that tribe-run mobile sports betting is OK since the computer servers processing the mobile bets are located on tribal property.

The tribe has sought a stay of the judge’s ruling to allow the app to continue accepting bets. Those opposing the tribe’s exclusive right to sports betting in Florida have filed court documents contesting the tribe’s motion for a stay.

In the spring, the Seminole Tribe inked a revenue-sharing compact with the state in exchange for exclusive tribal sports betting rights for 30 years and other tribal gaming expansion. The tribe operates seven casinos in Florida, including Hard Rock hotel-casinos near Hollywood and Tampa.

The judge ruled that the state and tribe can agree to a new compact limiting mobile sports wagering just to tribal property. She also said Floridians could launch a “citizens’ initiative” to authorize mobile sports betting anywhere in the state.

Countdown to November Election

With less than a year until the November election, the initiative effort has led to a fierce battle over obtaining the signatures to open non-tribal mobile sports betting across Florida and to expand casino gaming.

Rasheida Smith, CEO of Dunton Consulting, a company assisting the Las Vegas Sands-backed casino measure, said 32 of the Dunton’s signature gatherers accepted buyouts in two days from firms tied to Seminole Tribe. The buyouts can amount to $7,000.

“They are super aggressive, have been following them, tracking them to their places of residence, which are hotels, standing outside,” she told Politico. “We literally had one smack a clipboard out of the canvasser’s hands the other day.”

Bitner, the Seminole spokesman, told Politico any worker involved in inappropriate conduct would be fired.