Why Florida is Dragging its Heels on Online Gambling Regulation

Why Florida is Dragging its Heels on Online Gambling Regulation

VicesJanuary 31, 2019

Most American states are moving towards online gambling regulation. In some cases the pace may be deemed slow, but the intent is there. Florida has taken the opposite direction by creating a huge stumbling block in the form of Amendment 3. This article explains what Amendment 3 is all about and what were the opposing interest groups involved. The article also explains how Amendment 3 will negatively impact the future of all gambling, including online gambling, in Florida.

What is Amendment 3?

Amendment 3 was a voter referendum in the Sunshine State of Florida that was carried out in November 2018 along with the mid-term elections. It was popularly known as Voter Control of Gambling in Florida. Approval of this amendment has ensured that Florida voters have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling. Casino gambling has clearly been defined to include online gambling

  • Florida State Legislature would not be permitted to authorize casino gambling through statute or through referring a constitutional amendment to the ballot. 

  • Any order for casino gambling has to be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution. 

Amendment 3 was sponsored by Voters in Charge, an organization that was formed in 2015 and collected the required number of signatures to make the initiative a reality. It is believed to be backed by the Seminole Tribe and Disney. Amendment 3 received support from 71% of the voters, compared to the needed 60%. 

Pro-Gambling and Anti-Gambling Interest Groups in Florida

On the surface, the entire exercise puts the citizens of Florida in charge of gambling. However, reports in the business media claim that it has been a clash between gambling interests and those that oppose gambling in the state. Huge amounts of money have been spent in an attempt to swing the voters. 

The Seminole Tribe of Florida

The Seminoles were strongly in favor of Amendment 3. If the amendment had failed to go through, then sooner or later, Vegas style casinos would be established in the state. This would disrupt the hegemony currently enjoyed by the Seminole Tribe, which operates gambling establishments under federal law allowing Native Americans to do so. With the passing of Amendment 3, Seminole gaming will be insulated from competition.

Walt Disney Co. 

Disney was the biggest backer of Amendment 3. The entertainment giant’s intent was to protect its brand of Florida tourism, exemplified by Disney World in Orlando. The Sunshine State is known for its family type holidays as opposed to gambling holidays in Sin City. Disney spent $20 million for garnering support. It must be pointed out that Disney’s aversion to gambling is not new. After acquiring Marvel, the company refused to renew the agreement for creating online slot games based on Marvel superheroes.

Florida Sports Teams’ Franchises

The passing of Amendment 3 will indefinitely delay bringing sports betting, online or offline, to Florida. Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Miami Dolphins are some of the teams that have been seen to be against Amendment 3. On the whole the sporting fraternity has maintained a low public profile in this matter.

Casino Companies

Similarly, the passing of Amendment 3 has rung the death knell for casino companies establishing properties in the state. Florida has a large market of tourists and retirees with time on their hands. Casino companies have struggled and lobbied hard in the Florida legislature, only to witness the decision going out of the lawmakers’ purview. Dan Adkins was the chairperson of Citizens for the Truth About Amendment 3, which is a committee funded by casinos and racetracks. He alleged, “The Seminole Tribe of Florida is trying to buy a monopoly. Their arguments are all self-serving.” The casino companies have spent about $8 million through interest groups.

Maybe, it was the money power that pushed Amendment 3 through. It has also been alleged that the voters were not fully aware of the implications, as in Brexit. Several citizens said they were in support for casinos and thought by voting for the amendment they were voting for the casinos. A liquor store owner said that if people do not want liquor they do not come to his shop. Similarly those who do not want to gamble need not go to the casinos. Why prevent others from doing so? 

The Way Going Forward for Online Gambling

Online gambling has to be looked through two different lenses. 

Online Gambling at Offshore Regulated Sites

The passing of Amendment 3 will have no adverse impact on this. You can keep on playing at US no deposit sites who seem to have the ability to continue to take deposits and payout winnings. In fact, now that state regulated online gaming seems a distant dream, traffic to offshore sites could increase. 

Online Gambling at Florida Regulated Sites

If Florida wants to usher in an online gambling regime then it will have to go back to the voters. In the referendum any online gambling proposal will need 60%. This is an onerous threshold and will prove to be a huge obstacle. 71% of the voters have opposed gambling and it will take a long time to get at least 60% to vote for gambling. 

Experts had opined that the losing side in the Amendment 3 battle would resort to legal moves. The stakes are too high for the casino and the sports betting lobby to remain quiet. Nothing is out in the open as yet. Only time will tell what form the action will take, and that too a long time.