Amendment 3 Puts Future Of Florida Gambling On Midterm Ballot

Midterm elections are upon the US, and gaming and gambling issues will appear on the ballot in a few states.

Arkansas is making a move toward legal sports betting under a proposed referendum which survived a last-minute legal challenge. Voters will decide the fate of the ever-expanding industry as it relates to them via a question listed as Issue 4.

The future of Florida gambling is also on watch next week in two separate measures. Amendment 13 would end pari-mutuel greyhound racing in the state by 2021, while the other initiative deals with the industry in a much broader way.

On its surface, Amendment 3 aims to give residents full control over gambling expansion going forward. But the list of those lobbying on both sides — for and against — says a lot about what it would actually accomplish.

What is Florida Amendment 3?

The proposed amendment, entitled Voter Control of Gambling in Florida, moves to change the mechanics for expansion in the state. Here’s the ballot summary:

This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling by requiring that in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law, it must be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution. Affects articles X and XI. Defines casino gambling and clarifies that this amendment does not conflict with federal law regarding state/tribal compacts.

Pitched as a way to empower residents, the amendment would prohibit expansion of casino gambling by means other than a voter-initiated referendum. Both the state legislature and the Constitutional Revision Commission also have the power to propose legislation as it stands today.

The given definition of “casino gambling” is broad, including slot machines and “any other form of electronic or electromechanical facsimiles of any game of chance.” Although not specifically mentioned, it’d be difficult to separate online poker and online casinos from the printed language. The same holds true for online sports betting.

With a 60-percent vote needed for adoption, stakeholders on both sides of the issue are working hard to drum up interest.

Seminole Tribe, Disney proclaim full support

The “vote yes” messaging centers around the perceived greed of politicians and the need for Florida citizens to regain control over gambling in the state. Existing laws mostly restrict casino-style gambling to tribal establishments, but the current landscape is starting to bulge a bit.

A 2004 voter referendum authorized slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities in two counties, and tribes have proposed compact expansion to include games like roulette and craps. In 2009, Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill that relaxed the rules on a few forms of gambling, including poker. Some see Amendment 3 as a way to stem the tide.

Others, like the Seminole Tribe of Florida, see the initiative as a way to protect their near-monopoly on gambling in the state.

The Seminole is the largest of the two Florida gambling tribes and the one with exclusivity in some categories. It has become a giant in the industry, licensing the Hard Rock brand for two of its six FL casinos. Its flagship property near Miami is a multi-billion-dollar monument to tribal gaming.

Amendment 3 is also attracting significant contributions from anti-gambling groups.

Disney doesn’t fit squarely in that category, but it does have incentive to protect its revenue and the family-friendly image of the Sunshine State. According to public records, the Seminole and Disney have contributed more than $15 million apiece to advocacy group Voters in Charge.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce also advocates for a “yes” vote on the amendment.

FanDuel, Poker Alliance urge opposition

Considering the tone of expansion, Florida lawmakers have actually been somewhat reserved. A piece in the Tampa Bay Times cites efforts to add slot machines in eight counties and the legislature’s refusal to allow large corporations to create “destination resorts” in the state.

Apart from the party with a Florida monopoly, the rest of the gambling industry urges opposition to Amendment 3.

FanDuel has been one of the most active voices in the fight. In an e-mail to in-state customers, it contends that the amendment was “written to try to deceive” them. Here’s an excerpt:

It pretends to give voters more power, but the reality is that it seeks to make it impossible to bring sports betting to Florida and makes it more difficult to protect your right to play fantasy sports.

FanDuel is, of course, a sports betting company with roots in daily fantasy sports. FanDuel Sportsbook is operational in two states today, though any prospects in Florida figure to rest well beyond the immediate horizon. Even DFS still lingers in a legal gray area, for that matter, largely thanks to the Seminole.

The Poker Alliance is also on the leading edge of the fight against Amendment 3.

As the top advocate for online poker, the alliance has ramped up its messaging campaign in recent weeks. Using the hashtag #FoldOn3, it says passage would represent a “bad beat” for poker players.

Florida’s poker community is strong and growing, however, this could change if Amendment 3 is approved on Election Day (November 6th). This problematic referendum will make it very difficult — if not impossible — to expand gaming opportunities in Florida.

Voters will weigh in on Amendment 3 at the ballot box on Nov. 6. Anecdotal evidence and recent polling suggest a good probability of passage.

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