Las Vegas Sands Corp. is funding a political committee that has made two proposed constitutional amendments that would pave the way for casino gambling in the northern part of Florida.
The owner of The Venetian Resort Las Vegas pumped $17 million on June 28 into a political committee called Florida Voters in Charge, according to filings with the state Division of Elections, as reported by Florida Times-Union. State's residents could vote on the amendments during the ballot in November 2022.
The company's push follows a recently approved state compact with the Seminole Tribe for its casinos in the southern part of Florida. “Florida Voters in Charge is exploring options that do not violate the recently passed compact/revenue sharing agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida," committee spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said Wednesday. "The two proposed ballot initiatives are options we are exploring, specifically focusing on bringing casino gaming and the accompanying economic development to North Florida."
The Seminole Tribe's casinos are in the southern portion of the state in Clewiston, Okeechobee, Coconut Creek, Hollywood, Immokalee and Tampa.
The proposed amendments do not specify Jacksonville or any other city as the location for a casino if approved by voters, but the language in one of the proposals says businesses with active cardroom licenses could offer casino gaming if they are at least 130 miles from any of the Seminole Tribe's seven casinos in Florida, Florida Politics reports.
Jacksonville, which is more than 130 miles from any of the Seminole Tribe's casinos, has a Bestbet poker room on Monument Road that has a cardroom license, and it has been the busiest cardroom in the state for years. Bestbet also has a poker room on Park Avenue in Orange Park. The proposed amendment would not limit a casino to the current site of a cardroom, but instead says the license-holder could relocate to another site in the same county, provided the move occurs before Dec. 31, 2025.
The investment in the casino would have to be at least $250 million for a gaming complex that would include not only the casino floor but also related retail, hotel, entertainment, convention, financial and restaurant facilities.
The second proposed amendment drafted by Florida Voters in Charge would allow three new casinos that are at least 100 miles from any of the Seminole Tribe's casinos. The Florida Gaming Control Commission would issue those licenses based on applications it receives and each casino would require at least $500 million in investment. That proposed amendment does not have any requirements for the new casinos to be tied to businesses holding cardroom licenses.
Florida Voters in Charge submitted both proposed amendments to the Florida Secretary of State, which oversees the state Division of Elections. Bascom said the committee will be sharing "more specific details and the committee’s path to the November 2022 ballot in the coming weeks and months.”
Florida Voters in Charge's $17 million was one of four eight-figure finance reports in some way related to gaming posted on the Florida Division of Elections website Tuesday. The largest report was posted by Florida Education Champions, which raked in $20 million from DraftKings and FanDuel. It is backing a proposed amendment to open up the state’s sports betting market to all comers without oversight from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The language would allow the Legislature to tax sports betting and dump the proceeds into the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, similar to the current setup with the Florida Lottery.
That effort is largely separate from the resort-casino question and will likely face stiff opposition from the Seminole Tribe. “This is millions of out-of-state corporate dollars to try and manipulate the people of Florida, who are smarter than that. They think they can buy their way into the state. Our team intends to use our Florida dollars to protect the interests of the people of Florida,” Seminole Gaming spokesperson Gary Bitner told Florida Politics.