A Las Vegas Sands-backed proposed constitutional amendment seeking to expand gambling in Florida has now been discarded for the 2022 ballot. The gaming giant had spent more than $70 million on the political committee Florida Voters in Charge, which attempted to allow existing card rooms to become casinos if located 130 miles from tribal facilities.
The amendment sought to open the door to casinos in North Florida, along the Interstate 10 corridor, geared toward a facility in the Jacksonville area. The effort pitted Las Vegas Sands against the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the state’s sole casino operator, amid accusations of law violations and a lengthy legal fight.
Florida Voters in Charge failed to submit nearly 900,000 valid petition signatures by a Feb. 1 deadline, which prompted the committee to file a lawsuit asking Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper to extend the deadline. However, in February Cooper denied the emergency request, which led the committee to file a notice of appeal at the 1st District Court of Appeal.
Florida Voters in Charge then dropped the appeal while the underlying lawsuit continued, which also accused supervisors of elections of sitting on piles of petitions and challenged signature-matching requirements used by local elections officials. But now, on Friday, the committee filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of the case before Cooper, dropping its efforts to place the measure on the 2022 ballot, reports Tampa Bay Times.
Sarah Bascom, a spokesperson for Florida Voters in Charge, said their efforts were rendered “untenable” by the legal hoops confronting them, reports Politico. Amid the push for the amendment, the committee and the Seminoles became embroiled in a number of serious allegations and counter-allegations.
These included claims of death threats against workers gathering signatures for the ballot proposal, accusations that supporters of the measure violated state law by paying petition gatherers by the signature, and claims that Seminoles-linked groups -which received at least $40 million from the tribe- made efforts to “buy off” signature gatherers.
Florida Voters in Charge has now “begun the process of winding down the committee and its efforts for the 2022 election cycle,” Bascom further said in a prepared statement, retrieved by Tampa Bay Times.
“While the committee believes that it submitted more than the required number of voter signatures to make the 2022 ballot, the various obstacles the committee would have to overcome in order to vindicate those voters and make the ballot — the most recent of which is the passage of a law calling into question the availability of Supreme Court review of the ballot language — makes the achievement of that goal untenable,” Bascom said.
While placing citizens’ initiatives on the Florida ballot has traditionally been an expensive effort, costs for the gaming proposal skyrocketed partly due to a 2019 law that made it illegal to pay gatherers based on the number of petitions collected.
Given that petitions are only valid for one election cycle, should Las Vegas Sands pursue the amendment effort once again for the 2024 ballot, it would have to start from zero. Bascom did not say whether the committee had plans to revive the effort for 2024.
While the petition effort has now been dropped for the 2022 ballot, this might not be the end of Sands’ push for a gambling expansion. “In Florida, we failed recently. We had a disappointing outcome, but I think it’s in early innings,” CEO Rob Goldstein told Las Vegas Review-Journal in March. “We will be in Florida, in my opinion. It’s just a question of when it happens.”