Florida Gambling Referendum Petition Reaches 415k Signatures

The petition is more than halfway to triggering a referendum vote.

A petition that would make it harder to expand gambling statewide in Florida has received over 400,000 signatures. The proposal needs 766,200 signatures to trigger a referendum vote on how gambling could be expanded in Florida.

The number of valid signatures needed was calculated at 8% of the Florida turnout in the most resent presidential election. If the referendum made it onto the 2018 ballot, the measure would have to pass with at least 60% of the vote to become law.

The Florida Division of Elections says that the petition currently has 415,596 valid signatures. The political action committee “Voters in Charge” is leading the petition drive to get the issue on the November 2018 Florida ballot.

If approved, the referendum would take the issue of gambling expansion out of the hands of the state legislature and place it directly into the hands of voters. The petition calls for the people of Florida to have the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling”.

Expanded Gambling in Florida

In theory, a Florida gaming expansion referendum would remove the ability of special interests to convince local and state officials to legalize new forms of gambling without direct voter consent. The ballot initiative also would end court battles over the county-level slot machine expansion.

Florida media outlets have reported that Disney World Services and the Seminole Tribe of Florida have combined to provide 95% of the funding for Voters in Charge. If widely known, that fact might undermine the idea that Voters in Charge is seeking to get rid of special interests in Florida politics.

Disney World Services

Disney World Services is a division of the Walt Disney Company, which owns Orlando’s world famous Disneyworld theme park. Disney would prefer that Florida’s tourist industry focus on family-friendly attractions, so it opposes gambling expansion in Florida as a bad way to lure tourists to the state.

Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel claimed in a July 2017 op-ed piece that Disney lobbies politicians aggressively on the local and state level of Florida politics. Maxwell referenced the Textgate scandal in Orange County, where Disney is alleged to have lobbied county commissioners through text messages to block an Orange County vote on whether Disney had to award mandatory sick leave to its workers.

The Orlando Sentinel article pointed out the hypocrisy of Disney pushing for a statewide referendum on its pet issues. Since March 2017, Disney contributed at least $2.3 million to Voters In Charge, including over $500k in October 2017 alone. Those contributions helped fund the petition drive.

Seminole Tribe of Florida

As much as Disney contributed to Voters In Charge, the Seminole Tribe has contributed even more. Over $4 million in contributions came from the Seminoles, a major gaming operator inside the State of Florida.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida owns 7 casinos in the state, along with casinos across the United States under the Hard Rock International brand. The Seminoles’ casino monopoly in Florida has been challenged in recent years, as counties across Florida have approved slot machines and/or banked card games.

The banked games expansion caused the Seminoles to file lawsuits to protect their rights under their tribal gaming compact. The Seminoles have lobbied the state legislature to assure their monopoly over banked games, while challenging some aspects of the racinos’ ability to host other gambling games. Meanwhile, the Florida state legislature blocked moved by Gov. Rick Scott to negotiate a new gaming compact with the Seminoles.

Voters in Charge PAC

A statewide referendum would be an end-around by “Voters in Charge” and its political contributors. The November 2018 referendum would eliminate the possibility of legislature-backed South Florida casino approval, which has been rumored to be in the works for years.

South Florida casinos once attracted heavy attention from Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Genting Group. At one time, the Malaysian-based Genting Group bought the Miami Herald Building, hoping to demolish and then develop the property into a multi-billion dollar integrated casino resort. Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands has since removed his lobbying apparatus in Florida, as he has shifted Las Vegas Sands’ attention to casino gambling in Georgia.