On November 6th, voters in Florida go to the polls to elect a new governor and express their views on thirteen proposed constitutional amendments ranging from raising the retirement age for judges to prohibiting vaping in enclosed workspaces. One of the proposals – Amendment 3 – will likely have significant implications for regulated online poker.
Amendment 3 – entitled “Voter Control of Gambling in Florida” – proposes to give voters the exclusive right to approve any expansion of gambling within the state. If passed, Amendment 3 lessens the possibility of “special interests” influencing policy decisions with regard to the regulation of card games, casino games, slot machines, and other games of chance.
Proponents of Amendment 3 claim the proposal will preserve Florida´s “family friendly” culture and make it much harder for commercial casinos to gain a foothold in the Sunshine State. Indeed one of the “Yes On 3” campaign´s biggest contributors is Disney Worldwide Services who, in 2014, campaigned to stop Sheldon Adelson building three Vegas-style casino resorts near Fort Lauderdale.
Tribal Compacts are Unaffected by the Amendment
Due to a clause that excludes tribal gaming interests from the Amendment, the proposal also has the support of the Seminole Tribe – who control seven out of the eight regulated casinos in Florida. To date, the Tribe has contributed more than $10 million to organizers of the “Yes On 3” campaign, hoping to retain its near monopoly on brick-and-mortar casinos.
With regard to online gambling, the Seminole Tribe´s compact is conditional on the state not regulating online gambling. Naturally, if the state had wanted to regulate online gambling in the past, the compact could have been re-negotiated or the Tribe given exclusivity over online operations. This option will now be much harder to execute should Amendment 3 receive 60% vote approval on November 6th.
The Likelihood of Amendment 3 Passing
The money donated by Disney Worldwide Services and the Seminole Tribe has funded a massive advertising campaign which appears to be paying dividends. According to a press release issued at the end of August, 71% of voters support the “Yes On 3” campaign, with only 18% opposed to it and the remainder in the “don´t know” camp.
The success of the campaign is attributable to its message of “Who do you trust: Florida voters or the politicians and lobbyists who influence them?” and it is a difficult campaign to argue against – especially when the primary opponent to the Amendment is MGM Casinos – the organization that sued the victims of the Mandalay Bay shooting in Las Vegas in order to protect itself from liability!
The Implications for Regulated Online Poker
Should the Amendment pass, the implications for regulated online poker, regulated sports betting, or any expansion of existing state-sanctioned gambling are not that they will be impossible to implement – just much harder than before. Should lawmakers decide that tax revenues from an expansion of gambling are worth pursuing, any law would require 60% approval in a subsequent state-wide vote.
Considering the financial resources and the marketing power of Disney Worldwide Services, the likelihood is there would be a significant campaign against whatever proposals are being suggested by the state – even if the proposals are financially beneficial to the Seminole Tribe. It is therefore difficult to see how any future pro-regulation laws could be implemented once the Amendment is passed.
The Status Quo Will Remain for Online Poker Players
In practise, the current situation for online poker players in Florida will remain the same whether the Amendment passes or not. Players will either have to travel to a jurisdiction in which online poker is regulated in order to get a game, or play at a poker site not subject to U.S. legislation. The only difference a “Yes On 3” result will make will be to further delay any chance of online poker regulation in the Sunshine State.