Florida sports betting initiative fails to submit enough signatures to qualify for 2022 ballot; casino expansion initiative campaign sues over petition validation process

Two ballot measures in Florida concerning sports betting (sponsored by Florida Education Champions) and additional casinos (sponsored by Florida Voters in Charge) failed to qualify for the 2022 ballot. Each initiative needed 891,589 signatures to be validated by county elections officials by Feb. 1. Florida also has a signature distribution requirement, which requires that signatures equaling at least 8% of the district-wide vote in the last presidential election be collected from at least half (14) of the state’s 27 congressional districts.

Florida Education Champions’ measure was designed to authorize sports betting at sports venues, pari-mutuel facilities, and online in Florida. The Florida State Legislature would have needed to pass legislation to implement the constitutional amendment to provide for licensing, regulation, consumer protection, and taxation. Under the amendment, all online sports betting tax revenue would have been required to be dedicated to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund of the Department of Education.

Florida Education Champions reported $37.2 million in contributions ($22.7 million from DraftKings and $14.48 million from FanDuel) and $36.01 million in expenditures. Florida Education Champions paid $23.8 million to Advanced Micro Targeting for petition gathering services.

From 2016 through 2020, the total cost of successful petition drives to qualify an initiative for the ballot in Florida ranged from $2.8 million to $8.8 million. In 2016, Florida required 683,149 valid signatures. In 2018 and 2020, the valid signature requirement was 766,200.

Since 2016, eight ballot measures appeared on the ballot after the sponsoring committee(s) hired Advanced Micro Targeting to gather signatures. Of the eight measures that appeared on the ballot, five were approved and three were defeated. Sponsoring committees paid an average of $510,661.46 in total for Advanced Micro Targeting’s signature gathering services per ballot measure. The most expensive measure was the Ohio Marsy’s Law Initiative of 2017, for which Advanced Micro Targeting was paid $2.3 million to collect 306,591 valid signatures.

Florida Education Champions announced on Jan. 28, 2022, that the initiative would not meet the signature requirements and would not qualify for the ballot, stating, “We are extremely encouraged by the level of support we saw from the more than one million Floridians who signed our petition and thank them for their efforts in wanting to bring safe and legal sports betting to Florida, while funding public education. While pursuing our mission to add sports betting to the ballot we ran into some serious challenges, but most of all the COVID surge decimated our operations and ability to collect in-person signatures.” The Florida Division of Elections showed that elections officials had validated 514,910 of the signatures submitted by the campaign as of Feb. 1. It did not meet the distribution requirements in any of the state’s 27 congressional districts.

Another committee, Florida Voters in Charge, sponsored an initiative concerning casino gaming expansion in Florida. The Division of Elections showed that county elections officials had validated 814,266 signatures submitted by the campaign as of 5:00 p.m. on Feb. 1. The campaign met the distribution requirement in 10 of the 27 congressional districts, short of the 14 districts needed.

Florida Voters in Charge reported $51.6 million in contributions, mostly from Las Vegas Sands ($49.6 million), a casino and resort company based in Nevada. Florida Voters in Charge paid $44.9 million to Game Day Strategies for petition gathering and consulting. The committee filed a lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court on Jan. 31, 2022, asking the court to order the state and county elections offices to continue processing signatures until every petition in the possession of elections offices is validated or rejected. The committee said, “We believe we have submitted the required number of voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, but unlawful delays in processing them will lead to voters not having their voices heard. This lawsuit was filed to ensure fundamental rights are not violated and every voter signature is counted.”

Standing up for Florida registered as a committee to oppose both initiatives. It raised $20 million from the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Seminole Gaming.

Ballotpedia identified five committees registered to support and/or oppose the two gambling-related initiatives. According to campaign finance reports covering information through Dec. 31, 2021, the five committees had raised $123.77 million and had spent $101 million.

Politico reported on Nov. 29, 2021, that the Seminole Tribe of Florida was “paying petition gathering firms to not work in Florida during the 2022 midterms as part of an effort to block rival proposed gaming constitutional amendments — a strategy that also includes running a separate informal signature gathering operation and hiring workers that interfere with other petition gatherers.”

Seminole spokesperson Gary Bitner said the tribe “assembled the best team of political consultants in the country [and is] currently engaged to oppose multiple outside interests that have initially invested a combined $60 million in PAC money to hire more than a thousand people to fight the Tribe’s success.”

Faten Alkhulifi, regional director at Advanced Micro Targeting, said, “I have never seen it this bad. I have seen blockers before, but not like this. It makes these canvassers fear for their safety. I’ve seen people about to sign, then they end up walking away, sometimes scared.”

Rasheida Smith, CEO of Dunton Consulting, the signature gathering company for the casino gaming expansion initiative, said 32 members of her signature gathering team took “buyouts from the Seminole-linked firms in the past two days alone.” Smith said, “They are super aggressive. Have been following them, tracking them to their places of residence, which are hotels, standing outside. We literally had one smack a clipboard out of the canvasser’s hands the other day.”

Politico also reported that “As part of the effort, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has also been paying to circulate a separate petition that it claims supports the Seminole’s compact and new revenue for Florida. That effort, known as a plebiscite, is not tied to any specific measure being proposed for the 2022 ballot, but asks things like a signer’s name and address. The Seminole Tribe of Florida says the plebiscite is about ‘education.’ But supporters of the ballot measure argue it muddies the waters, making people think they have already signed a petition in support of one of the two ballot measures, when in reality they have signed a piece of paper not associated with any official campaign.” Zachery Herrington, state director of Advanced Micro Targeting, said, “That’s the thing, when we come and ask someone to sign a petition saying it will increase funding for local schools, we hear them tell our gatherers that they have already signed. It’s totally confusing, as it’s designed to be.”

Ten other campaigns for constitutional amendment initiatives had been actively collecting signatures, with valid signature counts ranging from nine to 77,809 valid signatures as of Feb. 1. The measures concerned topics including marijuana, abortion, and hunting. Florida law provides that signatures collected by initiative campaigns remain valid until Feb. 1 of even-numbered years, meaning the signatures validated so far are now invalid for any campaign that did not qualify for the ballot. Campaigns could begin collecting signatures to target the 2024 ballot.

Florida’s initiated constitutional amendment process was added to the constitution in 1968. The first citizen-initiated measure appeared on the state’s ballot in 1976, and since then, there have only been seven election years in which no citizen initiatives qualified for the ballot: 1974, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1990, 1998, and 2012. If the casino expansion measure does not qualify for the ballot, 2022 will be the first general election year in which a citizen-initiated measure did not appear on the statewide ballot in Florida since 2012.

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