Fate of Florida Gambling Industry Now Hangs in the Balance

Fate of Florida Gambling Industry Now Hangs in the Balance

On Nov. 6th, Florida residents will cast their votes as part of the country’s midterm elections, but will also be expected to vote on twelve proposed amendments to the state’s Constitution. These measures cover a wide range of different issues, including state taxes, prohibiting public officials from getting paid for lobbying, restoring voting rights for convicted felons, and the banning of offshore drilling, greyhound racing and vaping in indoor workplaces.

Of particular interest to the gambling industry, however, is Amendment 3, a proposal also known as “Voter Control of Gambling in Florida”, which aims to remove the right of the Florida legislature to decide whether any new gaming expansion can take place in the state, and instead hand over exclusive responsibility to voters.

While proponents suggest that this will help empower state residents and give them a greater level of control over gambling developments in the Sunshine State, those opposed to Amendment 3 say that it will ultimately hurt any future gambling expansion projects planned for Florida, including sports betting and online poker.

Seminole Tribe Monopoly

If passed next month, the constitutional amendment would subsequently require a 60% or more approval level from voters before any gaming expansion or new casino could be opened in Florida, which is accepted as a particularly high and difficult threshold to reach.

Presently, there are two federally recognized tribes that operate casinos in Florida, namely the Seminole Tribe of Florida with six properties, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida with a single operation. According to some analysts, the passing of Amendment 3 would hand these Indian tribes a virtual monopoly over the state’s casino industry, and protect them from any future competition. Opponents have also pointed out that while the measure on the surface appears to limit government power and offer people more individual freedom, in reality, it will result in restricted access to gambling venues and ultimately less gambling freedom for state residents.

Poker Alliance Urges No Vote

The Poker Alliance has been relatively quiet since being rebranded and taken over by Poker Central. Nevertheless, the nonprofit interest group with more than a million members nationwide has now spoken out against Amendment 3, and warned that Florida stands the risk of destroying the prospects of any future gambling expansion ever taking place in the state.

Last week, the organization took its message to more than 30,000 supporters in Florida, and sent them an email claiming that the ballot initiative is “anti-consumer” and driven by a “few exceedingly well financed special interests”. As an extract from the Poker Alliance email reads:

“Amendment 3 will make it very difficult — if not impossible — to expand gaming opportunities in Florida. If Amendment 3 passes it means there will be no new poker rooms, no chance to add new games at existing cardrooms, and, it forecloses on the opportunity for Florida to legalize internet poker and sports betting.”

Latest Poll

Despite protestation from the Poker Alliance and other groups, the most recent data suggests that Amendment 3 currently looks on track to pass. According to the Associated Industries of Florida poll, 69% of voters said that they intend to vote for Amendment 3 compared to just 17% who said that they will oppose it. Meanwhile, 14% of respondents said they are currently unsure on how they would vote.

As of Oct. 19th, the main political committee supporting the amendment, Voters In Charge, had received a massive $36.7 million in contributions from interest groups determined to see the measure’s passage. In addition to the Seminole Tribe donating $17 million to the committee as it seeks to consolidate its hegemony over the industry, the Walt Disney Company has also funneled a massive $20 million into their lobbying fund, with Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler explaining:

“We oppose the expansion of casino gambling in Florida because it risks our state’s reputation as a family-friendly destination.”

By contrast, the two principal committees opposing the amendment, ‘Citizens for the Truth About Amendment 3’ and ‘Vote NO on 3’, have raised a collective $8 million in funding. A number of Florida news outlets, however, have recently started speaking out against the proposal, including TCPalm, Treasure Coast Newspapers, Naples Daily News, Fort Meyers News-Press, and Tallahassee Democrat, which wrote:

“On the surface, Amendment 3 empowers voters. But because the referendum would be statewide, voters in one part of the state would decide whether a gaming facility can open somewhere else. This would benefit larger companies that have the resources to gather hundreds of thousands signature needed for a referendum.”