DraftKings and FanDuel earlier this year staked a Florida political committee with $20 million in the hopes of getting an initiative on the ballot that would allow Florida voters to legalize statewide mobile sports betting that could exist separate from the Seminole Tribe. Since then, the PAC, Florida Education Champions, has been spending for digital advertising, direct mail, and door-to-door signature gatherers.
Whether or not Florida voters have an appetite for the idea remains to be seen. Whether they will get a chance to decide — at least in 2022 — is also an open question. The sports betting titans officially formed their PAC on June 23, 2021, just 6½ months before the deadline to submit signatures. It’s possible, says one expert, that time may be the companies’ biggest nemesis. And that’s saying a lot, considering that the Seminoles, to whom lawmakers in May granted a monopoly on wagering, are lobbying against the proposal.
“The biggest challenge … is having to gather signatures by the end of the year, and that’s going to be a competitive situation because they are going to try to get paid signature gatherers out into the field,” said Scott Powers, a reporter at Florida Politics. “Most ballot initiatives gather for more than six months.”
Christina Johnson, president of On 3 Public Relations, which is working with Florida Education Champions, said the PAC is aggressively going after signatures and finding some creative ways to get to fans, including sending signature gatherers to sporting events and using in-stadium pop-up ads asking supporters to request to sign.
“We’re going to the source,” Johnson said of having signature gatherers at games. “We’re doing digital ads, Facebook, Twitter, and in-phone apps. … If you’re tailgating or walking to the stadium, we have a pop-up ad and then you can request a petition be brought to you.
“There’s a lot to do, so it just takes time to do it. It’s September, we’re into sports, and people are back into school, and people are into it. We’re covering all of our bases, pun intended.”
The initiative is one of a handful related to gaming that could land on the 2022 ballot. The other two are backed by the Las Vegas Sands Corp. One authorizes a casino in Jacksonville (and two others) and has collected no signatures, according to the Division of Elections website, and one would allow card rooms to expand gaming options and has collected 19,514 signatures.
Several other political committees have been formed — one by Magic City Casino, which has filed lawsuits against Gov. Ron DeSantis and the U.S. Department of the Interior claiming the new law is in violation of federal oversight, and one by the Seminole tribe with the intent of stopping any new gambling initiatives. Neither has filed a proposed ballot measure.
Seminoles also face lawsuit
Of late, the news around legal wagering in Florida has focused on the Seminoles’ possible Oct. 15 go-live date and on the Magic City lawsuit, which seeks an injunction to delay the launch. Last Tuesday, the Magic City Casino and the Bonita Springs Poker Room requested that a federal district court approve an injunction, according to the Tampa Bay Tribune. According to the story, a hearing is set for Nov. 5, which is about three weeks after the date on which the law says the Seminoles could go live with sports betting, and “a footnote in the lawsuit states that ‘representatives of the Tribe have informed Plaintiffs that the Tribe will not implement online sports betting until November 15, 2021.'”
The Seminoles have not set a date for live wagering, and they consistently answer inquiries by saying no hard date has been set.
At the heart of the lawsuits are the plaintiffs’ contentions that the compact should not have been approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior, and further that the state should not have passed a law based on the compact. Magic City Casino and the Bonita Springs Poker Room claim the compact is an “abuse” of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and that the setup of the compact all but gives the Seminoles a monopoly. Operators could partner with the parimutuels to offer sports betting under the pact, but the plaintiffs contend they won’t be able to offer “comparable” services and will lose new business to the tribes.
Ballot initiative process
While the lawsuit could upend or at least delay the start of legal wagering in Florida, DraftKings and FanDuel will have to wait until 2022 to find out if they could go it alone, and until 2023 before they could go live with betting.
Ballot initiatives in Florida require at least 60% approval to become law. The process to get on the ballot is complicated and time consuming. To start, a group must file with the state for a title and summary of the proposal, and it must include the text of the initiative and a petition explaining the initiative. From there, the secretary of state reviews the proposal and supporters can begin gathering signatures — they must have 25% of the needed amount of signatures collected before the proposal is sent to the attorney general’s office. It is then sent to the state Supreme Court for an advisory opinion, and finally, a fiscal review.
We want to bring legal online sports betting to Florida! Floridians, we need your help to do it – request your petition below. #FLEdChamps
— Florida Education Champions (@FloridaEdChamps) September 22, 2021
If a petition does not get a favorable recommendation from the Florida Supreme Court, it will not make the ballot. Signatures must be submitted to the state for verification by Jan. 2, 2022, and verified by Feb. 1, 2022, in order for an initiative to get on the November ballot.
According to Florida Education Champions, it has collected and submitted more than 20,000 signatures and has 100,000 more that are being processed. The state elections website showed 20,079 signatures as of Monday morning. A total of 222,898 signatures are needed before the proposed measure could be sent to the AG and for fiscal analysis. The PAC must gather 891,589 to get on the ballot.
“Getting citizen initiatives on the ballot is competitive, and we’re just leaving no stone unturned in reaching voters,” Florida Education Champions’ Johnson said. “The more awareness we can create, the better. …
The luxury of time is always a plus. We have a shorter time frame, so we make our best effort.”
Do Floridians want more gaming?
Proposals to limit new gambling will likely be welcomed by many in Florida. While state lawmakers approved the gaming-expansion pact with the Seminole Tribe, gaming expansion doesn’t have a successful history in Florida. In addition, voters in 2018 passed Amendment 3, which requires voters to have a say on any gambling expansion. That amendment is one piece of at least one lawsuit challenging the validity of Florida’s new sports betting law.
Don't look at this Florida Gaming Expansion as the state gaining $500m/yr in revenue from the Seminoles.
It's more like the state is losing $2b/yr in missed revenue by taxing them far too low for a monopolistic setup.
$5.5b of GGR to one company…and a $500m tax? 🙄
— Captain Jack Andrews (@capjack2000) April 23, 2021
Gaming in the state has been limited: There are jai alai frontons, OTBs, and card rooms in the southern part of the state, but casino gaming has long been restricted to the tribal lands.
“Florida’s population is not that keen on gambling,” Powers said. “Parts of it are — certainly south Florida — but there is a big religious lobby here and it’s a family-friendly vacation destination.”