Floridians say their votes should decide the gambling problem


TALLAHASSEE – In what could be a wake-up call for Governor Ron DeSantis and the legislature in their quest for a gambling deal that will legalize mobile sports betting in Florida, a new poll commissioned by No Casinos shows that 76% of Floridians respondents say voters should must approve.

Under the pact, signed by the governor and the Seminole Tribe 10 days ago, anyone over the age of 21 located in the state of Florida with a sports betting application on their mobile device, could place a bet on any professional and collegiate sports team and individual performance, motorsport event and Olympic competition.

All bets would be routed through servers located on tribal lands and the Seminole Tribe would be the exclusive operator of digital sports books in Florida for the next 30 years. In return, the tribe agrees to pay the state a minimum of $ 500 million per year.

Under federal and state law, the Florida legislature and federal government must approve any gambling agreement between the tribe and the state before it can take effect. Legislative leaders on Wednesday officially scheduled the week of May 17-21 for a special session to vote on ratifying a pact, create a new gaming commission to regulate all gambling and casino games, and end the ‘requirement that parimutuals conduct live or jai-alai matches races to operate card rooms or slot machines.

But opponents of the Florida gambling expansion say a constitutional amendment passed by 71% of voters in 2018 requires that an expansion of gambling must be approved by voters in a nationwide referendum. State.

Does Amendment 3 apply to this?

There is debate over whether the pact, including sports betting, is covered by the 2018 amendment, but when pollsters asked whether voters or the governor and legislature should approve the deal, 79% of likely voters polled said it falls under the amendment, while 13% said lawmakers can approve it without a statewide vote.

“Most voters believe that the pact’s predicate that having the data center that hosts online gambling on tribal properties constitutes gambling as being on tribal land does not pass the test of ‘smell,’ pollsters Jim McLaughlin and Rob Schmidt said in a note released Wednesday for No Casinos. The statewide survey of 800 likely voters in the 2022 general election was conducted from April 29 to May 2.

The statewide survey of 800 voters in the probable general election of 2022 was conducted from April 29 to May 2. Participants were selected to reflect the racial, ethnic and sexual demographics of the state, and voters were contacted via live phone calls and text messages. A demographic breakdown of participants provided to the Herald / Times showed the poll was over-indexed for likely voters 65 and over and under-indexed for people who identified as black or Hispanic.

“An overwhelming number of voters in Florida, regardless of their feelings on the gambling issue, believe that voters, not politicians in Tallahassee and Washington, should have the final say on whether to expand the game McLaughlin and Schmidt wrote.

This claim, however, is widely disputed by tribe lawyers, the governor’s office and legislative leaders, especially Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson, who are eagerly pushing the deal. In addition to allowing Florida to join 30 other states in offering mobile sports betting, it also gives the tribe monopoly control over full casino games in Florida, which will now include craps and roulette in addition to slots. and other casino card games.

They argue that, since Amendment 3 excluded a gambling expansion proposed in a contract with a Native American tribe, the proposal to host online sports games of chance on tribal casino servers meets the legal test of gambling. “On tribal land” and does not need statewide voter approval.

What about the transfer of gambling licenses to other sites?

Pollsters also asked about the prospect of the deal with the tribe that would allow South Florida casino operators to move their casinos to other locations. The provision is believed to target Jeffrey Soffer, the real estate mogul who wants to transfer his casino license from the Big Easy in Hallandale Beach to the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, a concept known as portability, and the former President Donald Trump, who might be trying. to obtain a casino license for his golf club in Doral. Such measures will require legislative approval in a separate parimutual bill, which was not on the agenda of the special session.

Pollsters said 51% of Florida respondents opposed the concept of “portability” of licenses for South Florida casinos, while 31% said they approved of it.

No casino staged the campaign to get Amendment 3 on the ballot and win overwhelming electoral support. The effort was funded in part by the game’s traditional opponents, which have long included the Orlando theme parks of Disney and MGM Studios and also included funding from the Seminole tribe. It’s unclear whether Disney will oppose the Pact’s inclusion of mobile sports betting, as the company owns ESPN and could potentially benefit from the game on its. canals.

Pollsters also concluded that voter intensity is high on this issue, with 72% saying they would be more likely to vote for a candidate for the Legislature “who wants voters to decide on this issue rather than one. candidate who wishes to develop the game and legalize. sports betting without voter approval. “

Pollsters said 50% of those polled agreed with this statement: “Opponents of this deal who say approving this deal without giving voters the last word violates a constitutional amendment approved by 71% of Florida voters . “

Only 29% of respondents agreed with this statement: “The supporters of this agreement who [cq] say this deal does not require voter approval. No matter where in Florida the person placing the bet is located, this new bet technically occurs on tribal lands as the computer system that manages online betting will be located on tribal lands. “

DeSantis defends the agreement

DeSantis defended the deal as needed, as mobile sports betting “continues anyway,” with betting opportunities from foreign operators. By allowing the state to make the tribe the sole supplier, the tribe can share the resulting revenue with the state and the state can regulate betting activities, he said.

He also said he was prepared for the onslaught of legal arguments against the deal.

“There are all kinds of arguments that people are going to throw out there, but … this is tribal managed, operated on tribal land, and I think that satisfies Amendment 3,” DeSantis said. when signing the agreement. “If anyone wants to dispute this, the tribe and the state will stand up for the deal.”

The poll also shows that no casino is willing to point out the dangers of gambling addiction if sports betting were allowed to come to Florida. Although much of the poll has not been released, the pollster released results on a series of questions designed to influence voters in a number of ways.

For example, they asked voters if they were persuaded by the argument that the proposal “is patently unconstitutional because 71% of voters in Florida just passed a constitutional amendment three years ago demanding that any expansion of the game be approved by a vote of the people, and not by the politicians of Tallahassee. Two-thirds (66%) say they are convinced by this argument.

Pollsters also read voters likely to be polled this statement: “Times have changed and if people want to gamble, they should be able to. However, we must respect the law and the Florida Constitution to allow people to vote on this issue. This proposal is nothing more than a behind-the-scenes deal put together by special interests who are using their wealth and influence to push through something in which voters are supposed to have the final say. “ Fifty-eight percent of respondents found this statement convincing.

Finally, 59% replied that they did not support granting the Seminole tribe a gambling monopoly.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at [email protected] and @MaryEllenKlas

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