Florida Supreme Court is set to mull a proposed constitutional amendment which would let pari-mutuel operators in North Florida add casino games to their operations. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody asked the court on Friday to consider the proposal.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, a political committee backing the measure surpassed the required number of signatures to start the review process. However, the Supreme Court’s review is for now only limited to considering whether the initiative meets formal requirements, such as having a single subject and not being misleading to voters in the state.
Florida Voters in Charge, the committee backing the casino expansion, is racing to meet a February 1 deadline. In order to make it onto the November 2022 ballot, the committee must submit 891,589 signatures by said date.
According to figures by the state Division of Elections, Florida Voters in Charge has so far submitted 425,523 valid signatures as of last Friday. It is more than the 222,898 signatures required for judicial review.
The casino expansion proposal, however, has met controversy between opposing parties in the state. Gambling giant Las Vegas Sands, which has contributed more than $27 million to the committee, has clashed against the Seminole Tribe of Florida over the proposed constitutional amendment. The tribe is the sole operator of Vegas-style casino gaming in the state.
Both parties have been involved in a legal battle over the matter. The controversy first sparked when lawyers for the political committee filed a lawsuit on December 1 alleging parties tied to the Seminoles were attempting to sabotage the petition drive by, among other means, paying people to stop gathering signatures.
But late last year, lawyers for entities linked to the Seminoles accused backers of the ballot initiative of breaking the law, alleging state elections laws were violated in the petition drive. Defendants denounced attempts to hide information: heavily redacted contracts were allegedly provided during the trial to hide an “illegal compensation scheme” for how circulators are paid.
The amendment being proposed would allow existing card rooms in Florida to become casinos if they are located at least 130 miles from tribe-owned facilities. Should it be approved, it would open the door to casinos along the Interstate 10 corridor in North Florida, and is reportedly geared toward a facility in the Jacksonville area.
Las Vegas Sands had previously tried for years to launch casino operations in the state, having previously looked at South Florida, unsuccessfully. The Sunshine State is currently home to 15 casinos, which generate more than $3 billion annually in gaming win. Most corresponds to seven tribal casinos, which generate more than $2.5 billion per year.