Disney and Seminole Tribe Fund Florida Anti-Gambling Campaign

Disney Seminoles Anti-Gambling Florida - Voters in Charge

Voters in Charge received 95% of its funding either from Disney or the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida and The Walt Disney Company have combined to form a political action committee to influence gambling laws in the state. The Seminole Tribe and Disney are supporting the Voter Control of Gaming Amendment, which would require a statewide vote to approve any new gambling laws.

For the past few years, Florida cities have tried to pass local racino ordinances, to give racetrack casinos the right to house slot machines. Several lawsuits have stemmed from the measure, while the Florida State Legislature has debated new laws to settle the matter.

Florida Division of Elections released campaign finance information which showed that the Seminole Tribe had donated $1 million on October 3. Through October, Disney donated a total of $2.875 million, including $2.325 million from its parent company.

Disney World Services, a subsidiary of the Disney Company, made an additional $550,000 contribution. That means only $225,000 of the $4.1 million raised by Voters In Charge came from sources outside Disney or the Seminole Tribe.

Why Disney Cares about Gambling

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is owner and operator of seven of the state’s eight tribal casinos. The tribe has a gaming compact with the state which provides it was a monopoly over certain types of gambling, so it would like to eliminate the chance for new competition to appear. The Seminoles consider city-led or even legislature-led gambling expansion to be unconstitutional, under Florida gambling law.

The Walt Disney Company is Florida’s largest employer, and it wants Florida tourism industry focused on family-friendly attractions. Casino gambling cuts across Disney’s family-friendly tourism marketing, so it has worked for years to oppose gambling expansion. The two groups decided that working together would hold a great power over the politicians.

Voters in Charge PAC

Voters in Charge, a group who are working to put a gambling amendment referendum before voters for next November 2018. Their goal is to obtain the necessary minimum of 766,200 signatures to push the Voter Control of Gaming Amendment to be put before voters. This amendment would require all requests for gaming expansions to be left up to the voters directly.

No Casinos Inc, a lobbying group from Tallahassee who is supported by various organizations such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Attractions Association, has been responsible for contributing the majority of the other funds.

Confusing Florida Gambling Laws

Technically, it is illegal to gamble under the state laws of Florida. Despite that, gambling proliferates in the Sunshine State. Through the state lottery, pari-mutuel racinos, and Native American casinos, the gambling ban has several exceptions.

State lawmakers have learned to bend the rules a little over time. The Indian Gaming Act of 1988 gives Native American tribes the right to house casinos on their reservations, which are seen as sovereign territory. States can tax the tribal casinos, but only enough to cover the costs of regulation. The only way the state can make a profit is if it gives concessions, such as monopolies over certain games.

Of all states, Florida has use the concessions clause to enrich itself. The Florida Seminole Tribe has a monopoly on several types of gambling, but pays billions of dollars into the state fund over the course of a gaming compact.

Local Laws on Pari-Mutuel Wagering

They have allowed for pari-mutuel venues to scrape the edge between racetrack or jai-alai fronton and a full functioning casino. Several counties have attempted to pass statutes authorizing them to place slot machines in their failing dog tracks, but these have been unsuccessful. The Florida Supreme Court intervened and immediately rejected the local ordinances.

Events even took a turn as the Seminoles threatened to stop sending all revenue sharing payments to the state since parimutuels had continued to seek slot machines as well as blackjack and other house-banked games.

Seminole Tribe’s Gaming Monopoly

Voters in Charge says that case laws that are conflicting with the Florida constitution have only pushed and provided ammo to politicians who believe that they “can bypass this constitutional prohibition and legalize casino gambling.”

Voters in Charge also stated that “parimutuel tracks are also trying to bypass the law by using the court system to obtain the legal right to place slot machines inside their facilities.”

The Seminole Tribe, which also owns Hard Rock International, has had exclusive access to blackjack and in July, the tribe and state legislature settled on terms for an updated compact giving the exclusivity for an additional 13 years. The tribe now has to pay $120 million to the state, and $220 million in previous payments held in escrow during the litigation for the exchange of the extension of the compact.

Voters in Charge Petition Drive

With the funding and support of Disney and the Seminoles Tribe, Voters in Charge is looking to have plenty of backing in order to get the ballot question before voters.

According to the Voters in Charge Chairman, John Sowinski, they have obtained 860,203 signatures, which is far more than the required 766,200. Sowinski mentioned that Election officials are currently in the works of validating the signatures.

A poll that was taken this year, found that 84 percent of Floridians “want to reduce or hold the line on gambling.” The group now has support from the biggest pro-casino group in the sunshine state. The group joined in attempts to maintain the competitive status quo.

Sowinski said, “We are on track to accomplish our goal. We look forward to being on the 2018 ballot, mounting an aggressive statewide campaign.”