Disney and Seminole Tribe win fight for Florida Amendment 3

Florida Voters Close The Door On Gambling Opportunity Via Midterm Referendum

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Florida voters have approved a constitutional amendment that hands them control over future gambling expansion in the state.

Listed as Amendment 3, the proposal carried the title Voter Control of Gambling in Florida” on the midterm ballot. Records show that advocacy group Voters in Charge received about $40 million in supporting contributions.

The group’s chairman, John Sowinski, summarized their message for the News Service of Florida:

“This comes down to, who do you trust: the voters or the politicians and the gambling lobbyists? Their burden is to suggest with a straight face that things are better in the hands of politicians and the lobbyists who contribute to them and who influence them.”

Those opposed to the measure could not meet that burden, in the eyes of voters. Around 70 percent supported the change at the ballot box on Tuesday, exceeding the 60 percent required for passage.

Amendment 3 is not pro-gambling

On the surface, it’s possible to interpret this as a win for gambling. That’s especially true if you just read the amendment’s short title.

The two chambers of Florida lawmakers have repeatedly failed to agree on expanding legislation, which has scuttled progress. The House is more reserved than the Senate, so giving the decision to the people could provide way through the impasse. This will not be the case in practice, though.

In practice, it will be immeasurably more difficult to advance gambling legislation. Change has to originate with — and be approved by — the electorate going forward.

Florida Senate President Bill Galvano told NSOF that passage further muddies an already complicated landscape:

“We’re dealing with an industry and an issue that is constantly morphing and changing. And without the ability to address it legislatively and the agility that that requires, you’re going to create real problems within the state of Florida, and you’ll end up creating a monopoly for the Seminole Tribe.”

That, of course, was precisely the goal for Amendment 3’s advocates.

A protectionist measure for Seminole, Disney

Most of the gaming and gambling industry stood opposed to the amendment, though contributions were comparatively modest.

FanDuel Sportsbook and the Poker Alliance were among those who funneled around $8 million to groups advocating in opposition. Pari-mutuels also joined the chorus, looking to protect their slot machines and card games.

In a somewhat unlikely pairing, the Disney Corporation and the Seminole Tribe of Florida were the primary supporters of Amendment 3.

Disney is flatly opposed to any gambling expansion as it guards its tourism empire in the Sunshine State. The Walt Disney World complex requires diligent protection against new destination resorts that might draw customers away.

The Seminole Tribe operates a few of those competing resorts — and casino resorts, no less. Enjoying a monopoly over some forms of gambling in Florida, the tribe spends aggressively to protect its own position.

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Closing the door on expansion

The history of friction between the state and the Seminole is several chapters long.

Most recently, the tribe initiated legal action against so-called “designated player” games at pari-mutuel facilities. The Seminole pay $250 million a year in exchange for exclusive rights to operate such “banked” card games, and a federal judge has already sided with the tribe.

Tuesday’s results likely hasten the demise of those games.

“Amendment 3 will clearly eliminate designated player games in cardrooms throughout the state of Florida,” said bestbet Jacksonville President Jamie Shelton before the vote. “Period.”

That would at least ease some of the tension, perhaps.

Florida may be getting its cash from the Seminole, but it won’t be getting any from sports betting or online gambling. And any hopes that the state might have simultaneously legalized online poker are now lying in the dust, too.

In all likelihood, there simply isn’t enough appetite among the voting public to spark the necessary legislation.

- A former founder of Poker Industry Pro and Head of Content at PokerNews publisher iBus Media, Joss Wood is a graduate in English from the University of Birmingham. Joss also holds a master’s degree in Organisational Development from the University of Manchester. His career path has taken him from the British Army, through business and finance to seven years as a successful professional poker player.
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