Even if its signatures are considered valid, Florida Voters In Charge seems well short of the number needed to get casino expansion on the ballot

Seminole Tribe’s Battle With Las Vegas Sands Paints A Bleak Picture For Future Gambling Expansion

Law360 reported that the Seminole Tribe of Florida has fired back at Las Vegas Sands earlier this week. The Seminole-backed group Standing Up for Florida accuses the casino company’s PAC of violating Florida election laws. Through its PAC, Sands has been trying to gather enough signatures to get casino expansion on the ballot this November.

Standing Up for Florida filed its counterclaim and third-party complaint against the Sands-backed Florida Voters in Charge in the Leon County courthouse in Tallahassee. Some of the allegations it contains are nothing short of jaw-dropping.

The counterclaim comes on the heels of a Feb 1, 2022, deadline for ballot initiatives to reach nearly 900,000 verified signatures. At last check, the Florida Secretary of State’s website reported that Florida Voters in Charge – as Sands’ PAC is known – had just crossed the halfway mark with 481,874 verified signatures. While still lacking the necessary signatures to get on the ballot, the casino expansion initiative is outpacing a similar initiative by FanDuel and DraftKings. That campaign, aimed at expanded sports betting in the Florida, had only secured 321,148 verified signatures.

Diving into the third-party complaint

Following Tallahassee-based Judge Dempsey’s ruling against Standing Up for Florida’s motion to dismiss, the group has brought a counterclaim and a third-party complaint. The group opens by stating:

The Constitution of Florida is under attack.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida-backed group goes on to allege that Florida Voters in Charge:

…are corrupting the petition process throughout Florida by blatantly violating civil and criminal laws in an effort to secure illicit access to Florida ballots.

The specifics of the complaint are equally dramatic. These include the accusation that Florida Voters in Charge worked with a third-party group to engaged in illegal payment schemes. If true, that would render the collected signatures void.

According to counterclaim and third-party complaint, the alleged fraud is not, however, limited to an illegal compensation scheme. Additional allegations include:

  • Illegal shredding of petitions,
  • Completion of missing information – purportedly done illegally, and
  • The alleged forging of signatures, including that of the Supervisor of Elections

An alleged pay-per-signature scheme

Standing Up for Florida alleges that Florida Voters in Charge hired the petition gathering group Game Day Strategies. Game Day Services purportedly then outsourced the signature-gathering to various other firms.

Standing Up for Florida states in the complaint that they have expended millions of dollars trying to:

…expose and put an end to the continuous fraud that is occurring daily throughout the State of Florida….

The Seminole Tribe-backed group alleges that Florida Voters in Charge paid these groups on a per-signature basis. That sort of scheme is prohibited under Florida law, which states:

A person who compensates a petition circulator… based on the number of petition forms gathered commits a misdemeanor of the first degree.

During legislative debate, an example was purportedly given of an agreement to pay $10,000 for the collection of 10,000 signatures. This would violate the law.

The exhibits

Standing Up for Florida has attached various exhibits to the complaint, including an affidavit from George Riley. Riley is a political consultant working out of Leon County. In his affidavit, he states that he was offered a contract with Game Day Strategies to provide ballot gathering services. He writes that he ultimately rejected the terms of the offer.

Riley states that after an initial deposit, he was to receive a payment of $450,000 per 25,000 signed petitions. This works out to a rate of roughly $18 per signature.

What are the counter-plaintiffs seeking?

The counter-plaintiffs are asking the Leon County court to issue a declaratory judgment in their favor. They ask for a declaration that the payment scheme arranged by Game Day Strategies violates Florida election law as a payment per signature arrangement.

A ruling in the counter-plaintiffs’ favor would likely result in the invalidation of any signatures found to have collected on such terms.

It’s important to note that Standing Up for Florida has not proven any of the allegations in its complaint. The defendants will have an opportunity to answer the counter-complaint. They will likely seek to deny most, if not all, of the allegations contained within the complaint.

Future impacts for gaming in Florida

The future of gaming in Florida has been taking some hits recently. First, efforts to include a provision to revisit iGaming in a few years was struck from the compact between Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe.

Things got worse when a federal court in the District of Columbia struck down the compact entirely.

There’s also the fact that neither of the current gambling expansion initiatives is likely to end up on the November ballot. Even if the challenge to the signatures fails, Florida Voters in Charge is a long way from getting enough of them by Feb 1. The DraftKings and FanDuel-led campaign for expanded sports betting seems like a similarly long shot. All of that taken together means that gambling expansion in the Sunshine State is moving backwards at the moment.

That’s just on the sports betting and retail casino fronts, too. Though there’s a possibility that online sports betting could return with a successful appeal, any hopes for iGaming seems years away at this point.

Moreover, these legal battles highlight the difficult in getting any such effort across the finish line. Just getting a question on the ballot in Florida in a challenge. Then there’s the heightened burden of reaching the necessary vote percentage to amend the constitution. There would need to be overwhelming support for online casinos before they’d have a fighting chance in Florida.

- John Holden J.D. / Ph.D. is an academic. His research focuses on policy issues surrounding sports corruption.
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