Court battle

Florida: Seminoles-linked group escalates lawsuit against Sands over proposed gaming expansion

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
United States
Reading time 2:26 min

The court battle sparked by a proposed constitutional amendment seeking to open the door to casinos in North Florida has escalated once again, as accusations between parties involved in the litigation flew on Monday.

Florida Voters in Charge, a Las Vegas Sands-backed committee behind 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. 

The proposed amendment would allow existing card rooms to become casinos if they are located 130 miles from tribe-owned facilities. According to the state Division of Elections website, the committee had submitted 458,608 signatures as of Monday.

On Monday, a committee linked to the Seminole Tribe, which opposes the proposed amendment, accused backers of the measure of engaging “in a widespread, election-law conspiracy” in the race to gather signatures, reports CBS 12.

The new allegations build upon an ongoing legal battle between both parties: Florida Voters in Charge accuses the Seminoles of illegally attempting to “sabotage” the petition drive by, among other means, paying people to stop gathering signatures.

Now, the Standing Up for Florida committee, reported as funded by the tribe, asked on Monday a Leon County circuit judge to decide that the signatures gathered so far have been “illegally obtained,” thus meaning they should be scrapped.

According to the committee, Florida Voters in Charge and its contractors “corrupted” the petition process throughout Florida “by blatantly violating” civil and criminal laws, in an effort to secure “illicit access” to the state’s ballots.

A series of documents filed by West Palm Beach attorney William Shepherd allege that petition gatherers are being paid by the signature: this would imply a violation of Florida law. Defendants had previously denounced heavily redacted contracts were provided during the trial to hide an “illegal compensation scheme” for how circulators are paid.

Moreover, court filings further maintain that a contractor illegally disposed of petitions that were either incomplete or erroneous, South Florida Sun Sentinel reports, in an effort to avoid being financially penalized by the Florida Voters in Charge committee.

Las Vegas Sands has been reported by Florida media as having contributed nearly $50 million to the constitutional amendment effort. If approved, it would open the door to Vegas-style casinos along the Interstate 10 corridor in North Florida, and is reportedly geared toward a facility in the Jacksonville area.

But the Seminoles, which are currently the sole operators of Vegas-style gaming in the state, have launched a counterattack against the initiative: the tribe has been reported as having invested at least $20 million into the Standing Up for Florida committee, as well as having spent millions on advertising against the ballot measure.

Documents now filed on behalf of Standing Up for Florida ask to block Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley and Secretary of State Laurel Lee “from giving legal effect” to all “illegally-obtained” initiative petitions in the amendment proposal.

The committee has provided testimony from former employees or petition-gathering contractors who accused businesses and individuals working on the ballot initiative of illegally paying employees by the signature, as well as shredding incomplete petitions and forging signatures on petitions.

As reported by Yogonet on Monday, the Florida Supreme Court is set to mull the proposed constitutional amendment that would let pari-mutuel operators in North Florida add casino games to their operations, as Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody asked the court on Friday to consider the proposal.

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.

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