Amendment 3 Passes in Florida, Deals Blow to Future Casino Expansion
The stories of the mid-term elections in the United States this week were the Democrats taking the House, a record number of women being elected, the first Muslim and Native American women heading to D.C., and tight gubernatorial races in Florida and Georgia that featured racism and voter suppression. Let’s forget about all that, though, and focus on poker. In Florida, voters passed Amendment 3, which is going to make it very difficult from now on for any gambling initiatives to take root.
What Amendment 3 Does
Amendment 3 was called the “Voter Approval of Casino Gambling Initiative” and was summarized on the ballot as follows:
This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling by requiring that in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law, it must be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution. Affects articles X and XI. Defines casino gambling and clarifies that this amendment does not conflict with federal law regarding state/tribal compacts.
That sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? The voters of Florida will have the “exclusive right” to decide on any sort of casino gambling expansion! Power to the people!
What Amendment 3 Really Does
Eh, sometimes things aren’t as they seem. With these ballot measures – and this is the case all over the country – the language found on the ballot is written to influence the voter in the direction the creator of the amendment wants them to vote. Only a very small percentage of people educate themselves on what the ballot measures are all about; most people just read the blurb at the polling place – if they even do that – and check a box.
On my ballot in Georgia, every measure sounded great. Overall, most of them were solid, but there were certainly details of some that were concerning. Nobody would know that, though, just from reading what was on the ballot. And of course, anything that says the voters will have the power instead of legislators looks awesome.
But here is how casinos will need to be approved in Florida now. To get on a ballot, an initiative will have to receive a number of signatures equal to eight percent of the votes cast in the preceding presidential election. There were 9,122,861 votes cast in 2016, so an initiative in the next couple years would require nearly 730,000 signatures just to get on the ballot. Then, to pass, it would need 60 percent of the vote.
That is a steep hill to climb, one that most experts feel will virtual shutdown any future gambling expansion.
The other reason Amendment 3 was a problem was that it made what is largely a local issue a statewide one. If, say, the people of Miami want a casino, the people of Tallahassee have just as much say, even though they are on the opposite end of the state and a Miami casino would have almost no effect on them.
Isadore “Issy” Havenick, whose family owns pari-mutuel venues in south Florida, laments this aspect of the amendment and explained to the Tampa Bay Times the problem with it. “It’s really the fundamental loss of local control that bothers people, more so than any specific game or anything,” he said. “People in Pensacola shouldn’t be telling people in Miami-Dade County what they should do. And conversely, people in Miami-Dade County shouldn’t be telling people in Pensacola what they should be doing.”
Most newspapers and media outlets in Florida recommended a “no” vote on Amendment 3, as did the Poker Alliance.
“Amendment 3 will make it very difficult — if not impossible — to expand gaming opportunities in Florida,” wrote Poker Alliance President Mark Brenner in an e-mail to members. “If Amendment 3 passes it means there will be no new poker rooms, no chance to add new games at existing cardrooms, and, it forecloses on the opportunity for Florida to legalize internet poker and sports betting.”
As Usual, Follow the Money
And if one was still not sure of whether or not Amendment 3 is good for poker and gambling in general, just look at who backed it. The PAC Voters in Charge raised $45 million in support of the amendment, nearly all of which was from Disney Worldwide Services, Inc. and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Why would those two groups be the ones to spend tens of millions of dollars for an amendment which would give the power for gambling expansion to voters? It is because they don’t want competition. Disney is synonymous with family entertainment in central Florida and it certainly does not want people dropping money at a casino when they could drop money on Disneyworld tickets, Disney hotels, and overpriced concessions. The Seminole Tribe has a near monopoly on casino gambling in Florida. You can bet (no pun intended) that it is not supporting an amendment which would make it easier for competitors to build casinos.
Amendment 3 passed easily, 71.44 percent to 28.56 percent.