Florida voters went on the ballot in November 6 last year to give their say on a whopping 12 various proposed amendments to the state’s Constitution.
This historic-long list of amendments to Florida’s Constitution entailed a wide range of vote subjects, including whether to ban offshore oil drilling, major changes to tax policy, banning vaping in public, an overhaul of lobbying rules, giving ex-felons their voting rights, putting an end to greyhound racing, and of course expanding gambling.
With the passing of Florida Amendment 3 during the midterm elections, it looks like eager players in the state might have to wait longer before they can partake in legal sports betting and online gambling.
More specifically, the amendment means the rights to legalize and therefore expand sports wagering and online gambling in Florida rests exclusively in the hands of the voters, and not lawmakers.
This has far-reaching consequences for the future of casino, sports, and internet gambling in the Sunshine State. But if things go right, the amendment can help solve stalemate on gambling issues that have persisted for long in the state.
First Up – What’s Florida Amendment 3 All About?
Florida Amendment 3, or officially voter control gambling in Florida was part of the twelve major amendments to the State’s Constitution on last year’s Midterm election. And it’s pretty easy to understand.
It asked a straightforward yes or no question whether the right to control gambling in the state should be transferred to voters or remain with legislators.
The vast majority okayed the amendment, essentially putting ordinary voters in charge of whether to authorize gambling expansion in the Sunshine state. Looking at the exact numbers, Florida Amendment 3 was voted for by 64.4 percent of the voters, while 35.6 percent of the turnout wanted the decision to stay with lawmakers.
The passing of the gambling expansion amendment comes at a very inopportune time because Florida’s lawmakers have not been able to muscle out any gambling changes in the past several years.
For instance, the state reached an agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida back in 2010, requiring the Tribe to remit some money to the state in order to get exclusive rights to provide an array of “banked” card games. Even so, there’s been a lot of back and forth, including a heated lawsuit involving the Tribe and the state.
Another headache for lawmakers is their inability to agree on whether to authorize slot machines in 8 key counties, including Washington, St. Lucie, Palm Beach, Lee, Hamilton, Gadsen, Duval, and Brevard. This is the case even though residents on the said counties have already green-lighted via local referendums the move to allow slot machines.
Despite the impasse within the legislative arm of the state, the amendment might be taken as bad news by online gamblers in Florida. And they will be right to think so.
The measure puts the voters in the driver’s seat when it comes to any future changes the state might want to apply to gambling. Thanks to the nature of public participation and voting, this will make it extremely difficult to pass any major changes to gambling, especially when it comes to authorizing sports wagering and online gambling.
The big reason behind this is that the whole process of initiating a change through the public vote is long and tedious. Even worse, any change will need to be voted for by no less than 60 percent of the voters.
If the history of midterm elections in Florida is something to go by, muscling more than 60 percent of the voters to agree to expanded gambling won’t be an easy walk in the park.
Who Supported the Amendment?
There was a long list of publicly known and unknown proponents of Florida Amendment 3. However, the most vocal ones included:
The Seminole Tribe of Florida
It’s no big secret that the Seminole Tribe of Florida has a big say as far as legal gambling in the Sunshine State is concerned. Remember, this is one of the only 3 federally acknowledged Seminole groups in the US.
In light of that, the Tribe has faced a stiff challenge in the past few years, particularly from pari-mutuels. That’s why the Tribe was the biggest and the loudest proponent of the Amendment. After all, making any changes by voter initiative is often a lengthy, messy process, which will help the Tribe keep competitors at bay for long.
The longer things stay the same, the better for the group. By supporting the amendment, Florida Seminole Tribe will regain much of its lost allure and maintain their firm grip on casino gambling in the state.
Disney runs some of the successful theme parks and recreational hubs in Florida. The entertainment giant, however, feels that increased gambling activities in the Sunshine state will tarnish Florida’s image as a family-friendly tourist destination.
Disney want things to remain the same. Disney alongside Seminole Tribe, Disney were the biggest funders of Voters in Charge, a political rights activist group/committee that actually proposed Florida Amendment 3.
In the period prior to the midterm elections, Voters in Charge is thought to have spent over a whopping $31 million on a diversity of initiatives, including massive rallies, hall meetings, and so forth. They took advantage of special interest and distrust of the voters to garner momentum and support for the passing of Amendment 3.
The duo was afraid that gambling expansion would happen if the Senate managed to convince the House, which has traditionally been against all kinds of gambling in the state.
By the election date, only 3 notable entities had financed nearly every bit of the budget of Voters in Charge. Again, this is the advocacy committee that proposed the ballot question, and made every effort to rally the public to support the amendment. In specific, The Seminole Tribe of Florida had contributed close to $11.8 million, while No Casinos, Inc., and Disney had each donated $81,000 and $14.6 million respectively.
Other key proponents to the Amendment included the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida League of Women Voters.
Who Was Opposed to the Amendment?
On the flip side, there was a group of associations, individuals, and other actors that were opposed to returning the rights of control over gambling decisions to voters. The top ones include:
The NFL (and associated teams)
Although it was last-minute, the National Football League (NFL) voiced its opposition to the amendment in the build-up to the big day. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went a step further and donated around half a million dollars to an action group that was vehemently opposed to the Amendment.
It turns out, the Miami Dolphins also sunk about $500,000 in the same political committee, bringing the total contribution by the NFL teams to a cool million dollars. Even though the entity didn’t remit the money directly like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s alleged that they used a South Florida Sod Farm.
But that wasn’t all. The day prior to the Election Day, the Miami Dolphins wrote a clear tweet in opposition of the Amendment. So, why would the NFL and its teams oppose the amendment? Answer: sports betting.
The NFL has over the years soften its stance on sports betting, noting that it could be a decent source of income for some of its franchises. That’s why the Buccaneers and the “South Florida Sod” farm joined forces with other stakeholders like MGM Resorts International to beat the initiative.
It’s worth keeping in mind that Amendment 3 will put several thresholds and stumbling blocks on the way of big gambling operations in the state, which is a big loss for the NFL and its respective teams in Florida.
Pari-Mutuels, Racetrack, Online Gambling, and Greyhound Racing Operators
It’s very clear why pari-mutuels and operators of online betting, racetracks and greyhound racing were opposed to Amendment 3. If the ballot resulted in a no, this group would have been the biggest winners.
In the weeks before the election, action groups like Vote No on 3 and Citizens for the Truth about Amendment 3 collectively raised more than eight million dollars. Behind this massive contributions are online betting operators DraftKings and FanDuel, as well as pari-mutuels of South Florida who operate hundreds of slot machines in the region.
That being said, the card games offered by pari-mutuels in Florida has since ceased. Interestingly, these card games were the main cause behind the strain between the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida. The July 2018 fight ended up in an agreement whereby the Tribue will pay $250 million annually to gain exclusive rights to these card games, including Pontoon, Blackjack, Poker, etc.
Even though no lawmaker came out to roundly oppose the initiative, a number of them have worked for many years behind the scenes to bring order and expansion to gambling in Florida. Legislators who have displayed their worry about the measure includes Republican William Saint Galvano (Bill Galvano).
The Senate President was quoted as saying that the amendment would make lawmakers just “spectators in the world of gaming”. He also lamented about the monopoly exercised by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The Aftermath of Florida Amendment 3 and the Future of Online Gambling in Florida
The US Supreme Court recently passed a judgment that basically made wagering on sports teams legal in the United States. While many states, including Illinois, are at the cusp of overhauling their gambling policies, Florida has not decided to take advantage of the same.
The Senate and the House of the state of Florida have not heeded to proposals given by large operators and companies that want the state to be a gambling-cum-resort destination. These lobbyists want the state to be a tourist melting pot, offering gambling, lodging, entertainment, and retail opportunities, all under one roof.
The passing of Florida Amendment 3 was the last nail in the coffin of any gambling expansion in the Sunshine state. That means that online gamblers will have to look elsewhere to get in action. Perhaps they can take advantage of increasingly lenient gambling laws being expedited in Illinois.
This is the sentiment held by some lawmakers, including Rep. Bill Galvano who thinks gambling in the state should be expanded. Nonetheless, gambling-friendly lawmakers have not given any tangible suggestions since Amendment 3 was passed. However, the committee on innovation, industry, and technology has reviewed all the avenue for legalizing sports wagering (and, by extension, online gambling), considering the restrictions created by the measure.
Note that while the state doesn’t authorize online casinos to offer services to its residents or otherwise regulate online gambling, offshore casino sites are not technically illegal. That means that many online gamblers in Sunshine State can enjoy all the goodies that come with internet gambling without having to watch their backs.
The good news is that there’s a growing number of online casinos that welcome players from the US. In fact, most of them offer enormous welcome packages that include free spins and huge bonuses.