The future of casino gambling in Florida will be placed in the hands of the electorate if Constitutional Amendment 3 passes in November.
The amendment proposes to give voters “the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.”
A group known as Voters in Charge cobbled together more than a million signatures to have Amendment 3 placed on the ballot, promoting it as a way to take gambling decisions out of the hands of the Florida legislators and the lobbyists who influence them.
Mike Thomas, a spokesman for Voters in Charge, said passage of Amendment 3 would return the decision making process on gambling to the source of its origins.
“For more than 35 years, voters had to approve gambling expansion decisions in Florida. This ensured there was a full, public debate on an issue of critical importance to Florida’s future. The Tallahassee politicians ended the voting requirement after 2004 and took over gambling decisions, reaping a windfall in political contributions as a result,” he said.
Since 2004, gambling legislation “crafted behind closed doors with lobbyists” has taken control of the legislative process,” Thomas said.
“Returning gambling decisions to voters removes the corrupting influence of gambling money from Tallahassee, ensures an open and transparent vetting of gambling decisions and restores a right to Florida voters that never should have been taken from them,” he said.
Amendment 3 is among the most controversial of the 12 that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, with millions of dollars being raised by advocates on both sides of the issue.
This year Florida lawmakers, feeling pressure created by the successful petition drive of Voters In Charge, spent weeks trying to negotiate ways to update gambling laws ahead of the November vote. When the regular session ended without consensus, House and Senate leaders contemplated calling a special session to attempt to get something done, but ultimately dropped that idea when it became clear doing so would do no good.
Two state lobbying powerhouses, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Disney Worldwide Services Inc., have chipped in over $26 million to the pro-Amendment 3 effort.
The Seminole Tribe, which holds a monopoly on casino games, slot machines and card games in all of Florida outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, could limit competition through passage of the proposal.
Disney has consistently over the years stood in opposition to gambling, and could also lose profits if casinos were to become a popular tourist draw in Florida.
Citizens for the Truth About Amendment 3 and Vote NO on 3 have raised over $4 million in an anti-amendment effort. Gambling and greyhound racing interests have been primary contributors to both organizations.
Danielle Alvarez, a spokesperson for Citizens for Truth on Amendment 3, called the amendment deliberately confusing. She said a proposal being sold as good for everyone could cost Florida nearly half a billion dollars.
“It does not empower voters. It is intended to be misleading. It takes away local control and solidifies the Seminole tribe’s hold on gambling,” Alvarez said.
If the ability to expand gambling goes to the voters, it extinguishes the power of the Florida Legislature to negotiate with the Seminole tribe on gaming issues. This could remove the tribe’s incentive to continue a revenue sharing plan that brings hundreds of millions to the state, Alvarez said.
“If the tribe decides not to pay a revenue share we have no way and no leverage other than to pass a statewide amendment,” she said.
The statewide amendment could only be placed upon a ballot through a tedious petition process, Alvarez said.
“It takes away two lawful ways to get an amendment proposal on the ballot,” she said.