Amendment 3 proponents have raised nearly $40 million to promote a ballot measure that seeks to give voters “the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling” in Florida.
Despite the overwhelming financial advantage supplied by Disney Worldwide Services and the Seminole Tribe, however, polls indicate the proposal may not secure the 60 percent majority necessary to adopt a constitutional amendment.
According to a recent Florida Chamber of Commerce survey, the measure is supported by 54 percent of voters with 28 percent saying they will vote “no,” essentially leaving the issue to be determined by the 18 percent who were undecided.
The good news for Amendment 3 supporters – which include the Florida Chamber and League of Women Voters – is they have a month and millions of dollars to persuade one-third of the undecided to vote yes.
The bad news is opponents, buoyed by uncertain poll results, are expanding their campaign to television ads that say the proposal would be bad for the economy and schools.
But most of all, the spate of anti-Amendment 3 ads have informed voters that there is, indeed, organized opposition to the measure.
The proposal considers card games, casino games and slot machines to be casino gambling. It does not affect pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, dog racing, jai alai exhibitions or casino gambling on tribal lands.
The measure was placed on the ballot by the Voters In Charge political action committee (PAC) after gathering more than 766,200 petition signatures.
The Seminoles and Disney have backed Voters In Charge from the beginning. Both have combined to contribute $36.3 million of the $36.7 million it has raised in its campaign. According to Sept. 28 filings with the state Division of Elections (DOE), Disney had contributed $19.6 million and the Seminole Tribe $16.7 million.
But now two PACs against the measure are stepping up their campaigns – Citizens for the Truth About Amendment 3 has raised more than $6 million and Vote NO on 3 has raised $981,832, according to Sept. 28 DOE filings.
Citizens for the Truth About Amendment 3 is chaired by Dan Adkins, the head of Hallandale Beach’s former Mardi Gras Casino & Race Track.
In August, the PAC received donations from several notable contributors: $500,000 from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, $400,000 from Los Angeles-based Elevated LLC, $250,000 from the St. Petersburg Kennel Club and $145,000 from Cardroom Tech.
Virtually all money raised by Vote NO on 3 is from West Flagler Associates, the parent company of Miami’s Magic City Casino. The committee is led by Chairman Isadore “Izzy” Havenick, whose family operates Magic City and Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing & Poker in Bonita Springs.
Both groups had mostly campaigned through direct-mail but are now hitting the airwaves with messaging that insists the proposal would imperil the jobs and tax revenues Florida’s gambling industry generates.
Citizens for Truth About Amendment 3 maintains the proposal would cost Florida schools $200 million in new tax revenue annually. In addition, the PAC argues, the measure could remove some slot machines and designated player games, costing schools another $330 million in tax proceeds over the next 10 years.
The group maintains on its website – www.choosemenot3.com – that the amendment is designed to fool voters.
“On its face, the amendment ballot language appears to empower voters. However, what Amendment 3 really does is cost education funding hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars,” the PAC says. “Because the referendum would be statewide, voters in one part of the state would decide whether a gaming facility can open somewhere else. This would benefit larger companies that have the resources to gather hundreds of thousands of signatures needed for a referendum.”
Florida has a mercurial 90-year history of public debate and referendums on gaming.
All gambling was banned in Florida until the legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Doyle Carlton’s veto to pass a bill allowing wagering on horse- and dog-racing in 1931.
A 1935 law legalizing slot machines was repealed in 1937 after voters banned them in ballot measures in counties across the state.
In 1978, Amendment 9, which would have authorized private casinos in Dade and Broward counties, was rejected, securing only 28.55 percent approval.
Amendment 2, which would have authorized casinos in counties where voters approved initiatives to allow casino gambling, was rejected in 1986 with 68.35 percent voting "no.”
In 1987, voters approved the Florida State Lottery in a constitutional amendment that garnered 63.57 percent of the vote.
In 1994, voters again rejected a casino gambling ballot measure, Amendment 8, with 38.71 voting "yes" and 61.29 percent voting "no."
A decade later, 50.83 percent supported Amendment 4, which allowed voters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to authorize slot machines at pari-mutuels, such as horse racing, greyhound racing, and jai alai exhibitions.
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