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Florida Sports Betting Initiative Won’t Be on 2022 Ballot

Seminole Hard Rock

Two gambling initiatives in Florida that would have appeared on the November ballot have failed, meaning Florida voters likely won’t have an opportunity to vote on the subjects until at least 2024.

The first ballot initiative, backed by top sports betting sites like FanDuel, DraftKings and Barstool Sports, would have authorized and regulated widespread commercial sports betting throughout the state. With its large population and tourist interest, Florida is widely considered one of the biggest untapped sports betting markets in the United States.

A second initiative funded by Nevada’s Las Vegas Sands Corp., meanwhile, would have enabled the expansion of existing North Florida casinos and operators.

Both initiatives were strongly opposed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which spent millions on counteradvertising through its Standing Up for Florida political committee.

The ballot initiatives emerged after Florida lawmakers approved a gambling compact in May 2021 to allow in-state gamblers to place bets online, which would then be processed through computer servers on the property of the Seminole Tribe, which operates Las Vegas-style casinos in the state.

According to the Miami Herald, the “hub-and-spoke” agreement stated that bets made anywhere in Florida “using a mobile app or other electronic device shall be deemed exclusively conducted by the tribe,” thus making them legal.

Seminole Hard Rock Cards and Chips
Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, FL is one of multiple casinos operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

However, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich overturned the agreement a few months later in November 2021, arguing that it violated both the Florida state constitution and federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the latter of which has been interpreted by courts to apply exclusively to in-person bets.

The Herald-Tribune reported that the federal ruling sided with casino owners in southern Florida who challenged the gambling compact and contested that it would hurt their operations.

Christian Ulvert, a spokesperson for Magic City Casino in Miami, called the judge’s ruling “a victory for family-owned businesses like ours who pay their fair share in taxes and believe the free market should guide the business operations of gaming venues.”

The Seminole Tribe asked the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to block the ruling, but the court rejected the tribe’s request in December. The U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees tribal gambling, is in the process of appealing the ruling.

Sports Betting Initiative Falls Flat

In the wake of the legal battle over Florida sports betting, the Florida Education Champions political committee formed and sponsored a ballot initiative that would authorize sports and event betting under Florida law “via online sports betting platforms by entities authorized to conduct online sports betting” and required “legislative action to regulate sports betting.”

Additionally, the ballot proposal would require taxes from betting revenues to be used to “supplement public education.” Specifically, taxes from betting revenues would go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which already receives funds from the Florida Lottery.

The sports betting initiative was backed by top sports betting companies, which poured millions into the campaign. DraftKings and FanDuel contributed a combined $37 million, while Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy took to social media to urge his millions of followers to support the initiative to “save sports gambling in Florida.”

Disclosure: FanDuel is a part of Flutter Entertainment, a holding company that PokerStars and PokerNews are also part of.

For the initiative to be included on the November ballot, supporters needed to gather a total of 891,589 signatures before 5 p.m. on Feb. 1. As of the deadline, only 514,888 signatures had been counted by Florida election officials, leaving supporters hundreds of thousands of signatures short.

A few days before the deadline, Florida Education Champions conceded defeat and thanked its supporters “for their efforts in wanting to bring safe and legal sports betting to Florida, while funding public education.”

“While pursuing our mission to add sports betting to the ballot we ran into some serious challenges, but most of all the COVID surge decimated our operations and ability to collect in-person signatures,” the political action committee said in a written statement. “We will be considering all options in the months ahead to ensure that Floridians have the opportunity to bring safe and legal sports betting to the state, along with hundreds of millions of dollars annually to support public education.”

Casino Expansion Measure Also Fails

A second ballot initiative, this one sponsored by the Florida Voters in Charge political action committee, would have authorized businesses with active cardroom licensees in Florida “to offer casino gaming if they meet location limitations and make minimum capital investment towards new development and construction.”

Like the sports betting initiative, the casino expansion proposal needed 891,589 signatures to make it onto the 2022 ballot. As of the evening of Feb 1., a total of 814,212 signatures had been counted, leaving supporters short by over 77,000 signatures.

In a last-ditch effort to save the initiative, which groups including Las Vegas Sands Corp. spent $45 million on, Florida Voters in Charge filed a lawsuit against Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee and asked a judge to issue an emergency order delaying Lee from certifying the results, arguing that Florida’s certification process is unfair and problematic.

In the lawsuit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court, Florida Voters in Charge alleged that “supervisors of elections around the state have not fulfilled their duty to promptly verify signatures as they were submitted, and instead permitted a backlog of signatures to amass … leaving tens of thousands of signatures dated prior to February 1 sitting on supervisors’ desks and ineffective for this or any other election cycle.”

“Due to the current Ballot Initiative Statute and the ways in which it is being implemented, (Florida Voters in Charge) are suffering, and will continue to suffer, irreparable injury, as (Lee’s) actions are violating their fundamental constitutional right to petition to amend the Florida Constitution by ballot initiative,” the lawsuit states.

According to local reports, the court heard oral arguments on Feb. 1 but did not issue an injunction, leaving the casino expansion initiative lost.

What Comes Next?

With the two gambling initiatives failing to reach the November ballot, Florida voters will likely not get to vote on the topics until the 2024 election, leaving them without widespread commercial sports betting for the time being.

Under Florida law, signatures for ballot initiatives expire after one year, meaning that signatures gathered for failed initiatives do not roll over if the initiative is re-filed. It is unclear whether either Florida Education Champions or Florida Voters in Charge plan to re-file the initiatives, though the former of the two has stated it is evaluating options.

It is also possible that the Florida Legislature takes up the subject of sports betting during its 2022 legislative session, which began on Jan. 11 and commences on March 11.

Another path would be if the Seminole Tribe was able to successfully appeal Friedrich's ruling on the 2021 gambling compact, though a decision could be a year away.

PokerNews will continue to monitor the status of sports betting and online gambling in Florida and keep readers aware of future legal updates.

  • Two gambling ballot initiatives in Florida that would have appeared on the 2022 ballot have failed.

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