There’s a great uncertainty revolving around Florida’s gambling industry right now. For years, everything was running smooth, based on a gambling compact with the Seminoles who run tribal casinos throughout South Florida and existing laws that told pari-mutuels what other services they could or could not offer. But as previous compacts expire and new legislation is tabled, the stew pot is being stirred vigorously, and everyone wants a say in what ingredients should be thrown in.
The latest developments come from the anti-gambling side of the argument, where a group has just submitted a petition with over 100,000 signatures in hopes of getting their initiative, Voters In Charge, on the 2018 ballot.
Voters In Charge is an amendment designed to give Florida’s voters the ultimate say in most forms of gambling expansion throughout the state.
For instance, if legislators wanted to legalize resort casinos and sell licenses to major gambling corporations, they would have to get majority approval from voters before they could do it. If they wanted to allow slot machines at pari-mutuels outside of currently permitted counties, voters would have to approve that, too.
It’s a Process…
Before an amendment can be added to the ballot, it must gain a minimum of 683,149 signatures. Voters In Charge isn’t quite there yet, but reaching the 100k mark is significant because the petition must be submitted to the Florida Supreme Court for review first, and that can only be accomplished when about 10% of the required signatures are achieved – 68,314 to be exact.
At present, the petition is on its way to the Supervisors of Elections to validate the signatures. According to the state’s Division of Elections website, Voters In Charge currently possess 22,373 validated signatures. Once that number meets or exceed 68,314, it can be passed on to the Supreme Court for official review.
The Voters In Charge committee is headed by John Sowinski, a 20+ year political lobbyist and the founder of No Casinos, another group committed to the dissolution of gambling expansion in Florida, but completely separate from the Voters In Charge group.
In a statement on Monday, Sowinski said, “When we launched this petition drive in October, we outlined a plan that called for hitting this goal of collecting enough signatures, that when validated, would result in the total needed for the Supreme Court to review the initiative, and we have achieved that goal.”
Three Prongs are Better than One
He referred to the amendment’s hopeful success as just one step in a “three-pronged approach” to combat the expansion of gambling in the Sunshine State. His interests are also working to undermine the approval of the new Seminole Compact that he believes supports gambling expansion, and to help facilitate a lawsuit in the Supreme Court that seeks to prevent the legalization of slot machines at racetracks outside Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.
The amendment would not impede state tribal compact negotiations, but could limit certain aspects of those negotiations, as well as giving voters control of any gambling-related legislation that refers to casinos and/or gambling activities not located on tribal lands.
“Our state’s history shows that you cannot expand gambling even a little in one place without it resulting in an explosion of gambling in another,” said Sowinski. “The people of Florida should have the ultimate say when it comes to deciding on gambling expansion, not gambling industry lawyers and lobbyists.”