Opinion: Outlook Bleak For Florida Sports Betting Ballot Measures

Posted on December 16, 2021
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Written By on December 16, 2021

The deadline for Florida sports betting ballot measures to meet the first signature threshold for the November 2022 election is February 1.

But that deadline is a bit misleading because it is for verified signatures, and signatures can take up to 30 days to verify. This means that the deadline for collecting signatures to get FL sports betting on the ballot in 2022 in the Sunshine State is roughly two weeks away.

Recent challenges for measures

Last week, the Leon County courthouse in Tallahassee saw a showdown between opposing groups, namely Florida Voters in Charge and Let the Voters Decide, LLC. groups linked to the Sands group’s ballot measures and the Seminole Tribe, respectively.

Florida Voters in Charge sought a temporary restraining order against various defendants, including Let the Voters Decide from interfering and trying to recruit signature gatherers away from their initial contracts. The temporary restraining order, however, was not granted.

The defendants filed for a motion to dismiss, which was denied. A hearing had been set for December 14, but that was canceled after the plaintiffs withdrew their amended emergency motion for a temporary restraining order.

Competing approaches to Florida sports betting

Two competing groups seek to bring sports betting to Florida via ballot measures in November.

  • The Sands Corp. backs one group and has two initiatives hoping to get on the ballot, though both would allow for expanded casino gaming in the state.
  • The other group is Florida Education Champions, the financial juggernaut backed by FanDuel and DraftKings.

At the moment, the two measures from the Sands-backed Florida Voters in Charge have 175 verified valid signatures and 260,393 verified valid signatures. The latter has met the state’s threshold of 222,898 for judicial and financial impact review.

Florida Education Champions, however, has only had 173,831 signatures verified, leaving it short of even meeting the initial threshold for judicial review. Both groups appear well short of the 891,589 verified signatures necessary to get on the November ballot.

Judicial and financial impact review?

Under Florida law, within 45 days after the Financial Impact Estimating Conference receives a proposed ballot measure after having the 222,000 signatures verified by the Secretary of State, the Estimating Conference must estimate the increase or decrease “in any revenues or costs to state or local governments resulting from the proposed initiative.”

The group must then submit a statement of no more than 75 words about the unambiguous financial impact of the ballot measure to the Attorney General. The measure’s financial impact is required to appear alongside the ballot measure on the ballot.

Where are the organizations though?

Getting a grasp of just exactly how close to the roughly 900,000 signatures each organization is might be a fool’s errand. The day after Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that the 2021 Seminole Compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Florida Education Champions released a statement that said they had more than 500,000 petitions in various verification stages.

In what felt like a tone of muted celebration the loss of Florida sports betting, a Florida Education Champions spokesperson said:

Our effort was always mutually exclusive from the compact. Florida Education Champions’ focus remains in securing the nearly 900,000 valid petitions to make the November 2022 ballot.

Now is the time for all entities to come together so we may provide a competitive legal sports betting market for Floridians, while generating the expected hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues for the Florida Educational Enhancement Trust Fund.

After the press release, the organization reportedly is closer to 600,000 signatures.

Time is ticking for Florida sports betting measures

Whether the company is at 500,000 or 600,000 signatures might not make much difference, as they only have about two weeks left to collect either 300,000 or 400,000 signatures. Given that Florida Education Champions launched their campaign in June, that would require a significant uptick in petitions being returned.

It might be even more challenging when one considers that the most ardent supporters likely already signed their petitions and sent them in, making those remaining signatures more challenging to gather.

Where is the money?

While Florida Education Champions tied its campaign to directly funding education (as opposed to funding the general fund, which also funds education, like the Compact), the group has not put out much in the way of concrete numbers in terms of what revenue they believe Florida could generate from their desired open sports betting market.

Is this because the group cannot promise the $500 million that the Seminole Tribe guarantees? Maybe so, maybe not. The Florida Education Champions initiative does not set up a taxation scheme that would come later, but the fiscal evaluation might generate some ballpark numbers.

Best chance of sports betting in Florida?

The best chance for sports betting coming to Florida in the next two years is if the Seminole Tribe prevails (or signs a new compact for on-premises only) or the federal government modernizes the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to allow for mobile betting.

Unfortunately for those hoping for an open market, the reality is that whether the organizations need 300,000 or 400,000 signatures, they are almost certain to run out of time.

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John Holden

John Holden J.D. / Ph.D. is an academic. His research focuses on policy issues surrounding sports corruption.

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