With 99% of precincts reporting in, Florida voters approved Amendment 3 to the state constitution, as the Disney corporation and the state’s Seminole tribes hoped they would. The amendment gives voters control over commercial gambling expansion in the Sunshine State.
According to Ballotpedia, about 5.5 million voters (71%) voted in favor of Amendment 3, with about 2.2 million voting “no.” Less than half of the state’s adult population weighed in on the crucial issue.
On the surface, voter control over gambling expansion in the state might sound like a good thing. However, the consensus is that it will be hard to authorize sports betting — outside of the Seminoles’ tribal casinos — now that new forms of gambling will require at least 60% voter approval.
Understanding the tribal compact
The Seminoles were in favor of the amendment because it further solidifies their gaming exclusivity in the state. Already holding a monopoly on a game like blackjack, the Seminoles could still launch sports betting despite Amendment 3.
Tribal gaming is regulated by the federal government, but the gaming takes place within Florida’s borders under a compact between the tribe and the state. The Seminoles could eventually offer sports betting under a compact, which the legislature could authorize without the requirement of voter approval.
From the text of the constitutional amendment:
“[N]othing herein shall be construed to limit the ability of the state or Native American tribes to negotiate gaming compacts pursuant to the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act for the conduct of casino gambling on tribal lands, or to affect any existing gambling on tribal lands pursuant to compacts executed by the state and Native American tribes pursuant to IGRA.”
Florida and the Seminoles last brokered a compact in 2015. In exchange for table game exclusivity, the tribe is forking over $3 billion to the state.
Opposition to Amendment 3
According to Politico, all three Florida NFL franchises opposed Amendment 3. Collectively, they spent $2.5 million to try to defeat the ballot question, per the report.
The Miami Dolphins even tweeted on Monday about opposing the amendment. However, the tweet was later deleted. It’s worth noting that the Dolphins play in Hard Rock Stadium. The Seminoles own the Hard Rock Cafe brand.
MGM Resorts also gave $2.5 million by the end of October, along with $2 million from Bestbet Jacksonville, a casino-like facility with limited gaming. FanDuel and DraftKings each contributed six-figure sums.
Despite the large contributions, the opposition was outspent by the Seminoles, who gambled more than $24 million. Disney also ponied up more than $20 million to help maintain its share of entertainment dollars. The media conglomerate has long claimed it cares about protecting the state’s family-friendly reputation.
Lucrative market up in the air
Total political spending on Amendment 3 was about $60 million, which might sound like a lot, but it pales in comparison to what is at stake.
According to a 2017 study by Oxford Economics, Florida could have the fourth largest sports betting market in the country. Assuming the adoption of mobile betting and state-of-the-art betting options, as well as a tax rate of 10%, the study found that Floridians and tourists will wager $17.4 billion annually on sports, generating taxable revenue of more than $1.1 billion.
Whether or not the Florida Legislature could give the Seminoles mobile sports wagering — accessible statewide — remains to be seen.
Florida’s potential sports betting market would take a massive hit without mobile, according to the study. If sportsbooks are confined to the Seminoles’ brick-and-mortars, the Sunshine State market could fall to $3.7 billion in annual handle and just $226 million in taxable revenue.
Under that scenario, Florida might never catch Nevada’s market, which has had mobile for years. That’s despite Florida having about seven times the adult population, and far more sports teams.
Arguably the most glaring problem with Florida not having mobile sports wagering is that it would allow black market sites to continue making money.
Could voters approve sports betting?
Disney and the Seminoles would spend lavishly to defeat a statewide sports betting referendum, but their political war chests might not matter.
An early spring survey from Seton Hall University showed that 55% of Americans support legalized sports betting, with 35% opposing it. The gap between support and opposition should widen as sports betting becomes more and more mainstream. The Seton Hall survey was conducted before the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the federal ban in May.
Sponsorship deals between professional sports teams and gaming companies are flying fast off the shelves in several states, but especially in New Jersey. It’s not impossible that eventually Disney and the Seminoles become impotent on the issue. Florida’s pro sports teams have huge, devoted followings, and those brands could help put a stop to Disney being the Darth Vader of Florida gambling expansion.
Like Amendment 3, sports betting advocates would need to gather enough validated signatures to put the issue on a future ballot. Supporters of Amendment 3 gathered more than 700,000 signatures.