Category Archives: Ballot Measure

Florida Greyhound Ban Clears First Hurdle and will be presented to Committee: Decoupling Issue Remains Unclear, but more Support for a Ban Grows

Casino Watch Focus has reported that a new and unique avenue for banning greyhound races was being proposed by Sen. Tom Lee. As a member of the Constitutional Revision Committee, he planned to bring forward a bill that if approved, would go to state voters and seeks to ban greyhound racing. The General Provisions Committee is putting the resolution in front of the Executive Committee. The issue of decoupling is still vague, so its unclear if this would pave the way for stand alone poker rooms or if this would shut those down along with the dog racing. An online source reports:

As debate regarding the industry rages on, a proposed constitutional amendment could put the decision on the future of greyhound racing – and, by extension, live poker – in the hands of the voters of Florida.

The General Provisions Committee decided on Thursday to put the potential resolution in front of the entire Executive Committee. Called Proposal 67, the resolution would ban greyhound racing effective December 31, 2019. According to Saunders, the original plan was for the ban to be slowly phased in with an effective date of July 21, but the General Provisions Committee moved up the date. “We should do this as quickly as we feasibly can,” commission member Brecht Heuchan said to Saunders.

By state law, the only way that a greyhound track can offer a poker room is if they offer a significant racing schedule and pari-mutuel betting. There have been discussions for several years about separating the greyhound tracks and the poker rooms, but they have been unable to separate the two industries. If Proposal 67 were first to get on the ballot in 2018 and then be voted through by 60% of the citizenry of Florida, there would be significant issues because of the linkage.

The proposed constitutional amendment isn’t necessarily looking at gambling or poker being offered at the tracks. Many of the members of the constitutional committee are more concerned with the perceived issues that have plagued the racing industries for years. As Lee stated to Saunders, “As we’ve evolved, we’ve banned all sorts of activities that have been considered cruel to animals: bullfighting and cockfighting and all kinds of things. To me, this is just the next step on that plane of becoming more sensitive to this kind of inhumanity.”

More supporters looking to free dogs from the realities of this harmful environment have come forward. In an editorial sent out to multiple publications, including the Palm Beach Post Online:

Kate MacFall, the Florida State Director for the Humane Society of the United States, laid out a passionate plea to end greyhound racing, some of which is blow:

With 12 of the 18 dog tracks nationwide in our state, Florida has the most dog-racing operations in the U.S., thanks to our state government’s actions to prop up the industry. Greyhound racing is illegal in 40 states, and now is the time to add Florida to the list.

On average, a racing greyhound dies in Florida every three days. Many more are injured. Even if dogs don’t end up injured or dead, their lives are ones of abject misery.

Just this year, two more cases of dog “doping” have been added to the long list of violations. In one case, two trainers at a Jacksonville-area track were cited when dozens of greyhound blood tests came up positive for cocaine, with one greyhound testing positive six different times.

The total amount gambled on live racing at Florida dog tracks declined by 56 percent between 2006 and 2016. State tax revenue from dog racing also continues to drop, with revenue declining by 81 percent from 2006 to 2016. 

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Update: Florida Voters in Charge Amendment Reaches State Signature Requirement and Receives backing from Disney and Seminole Tribe

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing progression of signatures gathered to place a new amendment on the Florida ballot aimed and controlling gambling better in the state. The proposal would require any gambling legislation passed by the Florida Government to get a vote of the people to pass. Disney has been a backer of the amendment and now it appears the Seminole Tribe has joined in support. The Tribe has a vested interest in keeping gambling to a minimum, given they are one of only a few means to gambling in the state. Still, they have had a difficult time recently with the Florida government adhering to the agreement to keep certain gambling activities restricted in the state, so its unsurprising that they would back additional gambling expansion safeguards. In addition to their support, its being reported that the Voters in Charge amendment has reached the signature threshold to allow the measure to be voted on by the people. An online source explains: 

Voters in Charge is pushing the Voter Control of Gaming Amendment. If the group can obtain the necessary 766,200 signatures to put the issue before voters, Florida residents would decide next fall on the forcing all future gaming expansion to be decided by the voters directly. Outside of the state lottery, parimutuel racinos, and Native American casinos, gambling is supposed to be illegal in Florida. But state lawmakers have gotten crafty in recent years, allowing for parimutuel venues to dance a fine line between racetrack or jai-alai fronton and full-fledged casino.

Well-funded by the Seminoles and Disney, Voters in Charge seems to have plenty of support to get the ballot question before voters. The group said in a release that it has obtained 860,203 signatures, far more than the 766,200 needed. Voters in Charge Chairman John Sowinski said election officials are currently in the process of validating the signatures.

A poll this year found that 84 percent of Floridians “want to reduce or hold the line on gambling.” While this research was commissioned by a lobbying firm working closely with the anti-casino activist group, they now have support from the biggest pro-casino group in the state in an effort to maintain the competitive status quo. 

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Florida Sen. Tom Lee Proposes Unique way to Ban Greyhound Racing, but is it Meaningful and Helpful Change or a Decoupling Effort Aimed at Gambling Expansion?

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing struggles of Florida’s greyhound industry and efforts to remove the races, but keep the slot machine gambling, an act known as decoupling. As it stands, to offer slot machines, the tracks must maintain a certain level of dog racing. Many see the terrible conditions for the animals as reason enough to shut down the industry and others want to not only protect the dogs, but Florida’s families by removing the full scope of gambling happening at the 12 tracks across Florida. Florida state Sen. Tom Lee, and former Senate President Don Gaetz are approaching the issue in unique way. As an online source explainsthe current methods to ban greyhound racing have failed due to the ability for those in opposition to add gambling expansion and other amendments to the bill that would make it undesirable. They now think the have a way around this issue:

Gaetz and state Sen. Tom Lee, both members of the Constitutional Revision Committee convened early this year, are listed as co-introducers of a measure “to prohibit wagering on greyhound or other dog races.”

Gaetz called the gaming event known as the Sport of Kings “a cruel, abusive practice” and noted that twice when he served as Senate President he had proposed legislation to ban greyhound racing. Both times the measure had passed the Senate and failed in the House.

Then-House Speaker Will Weatherspoon had been hesitant to have a companion bill to his legislation brought up for consideration, Gaetz said, because doing so would allow for amendment proposals that could serve to expand all sorts of gambling opportunities in the state.

“He was afraid we could move from a very humane bill about greyhounds to amended legislation creating a dramatic expansion of casino gambling,” Gaetz said. “It was a real tragedy we couldn’t get a clean bill banning greyhound racing passed.” As Constitution Revision Commission members, though, Gaetz and Lee can control the wording of the amendment they propose without fear of amendments being added. The proposed amendment would then be voted upon by state residents. “This seems like a better environment for this proposal,” Gaetz said.

If the proposed amendment is an outright ban of greyhound racing and doesn’t allow the site operators to stay open and operate mini-casinos by way of legally allowed slot parlors, the measure can be viewed as a win for the animals and Florida families. If, however, the measure simply prevents additional gambling amendments, but still leaves mini-casinos behind via decoupling, then it’s not nearly as beneficial as it appears on face. Some are skeptical. Former Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp has been outspoken against decoupling and his article in Florida Politics outlines the decoupling potential:

State Sen. *Tom Lee* has proposed a constitutional amendment, as a member of the state’s Constitutional Revision Commission, that would end live greyhound racing and allow all 12 of Florida’s greyhound tracks to essentially continue operating as mini casinos.

It has been suggested that the proposal is an animal welfare proposal. There have been numerous attempts to end live racing in the Legislature over the years. All of those efforts have failed, in large part, because most members of the Legislature oppose the dramatic expansion of gambling that would result from such efforts.

It must also be noted however; his end goal is not to solely or altruistically oppose the act because gambling would left in the wake, as so many others do. He openly represents Florida Greyhound Association, so to that end, their goal is to keep greyhound racing alive. The rational and motivation behind each particular path can become muddled, but the reality of how this issue will be resolved is in the air until final language is seen. The intent of this measure is certainly being outlined from an animal welfare standpoint though, so time will tell what the final wording will be or even if it will make it to voters. The Bradenton Herald explains:

Dog racing is banned in 40 states and controversy surrounds the industry. Opponents say dogs are mistreated and have tested positive for cocaine, according to reports. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, at least 22 greyhounds have tested positive for cocaine this year and state figures show nearly 400 dogs have died at Florida tracks since 2013.

“There is growing recognition that many of these animals live in inhumane conditions, a reality that is out of line with the moral standard of Floridians,” Lee said in a statement. “For over a decade, the Legislature has fought to end greyhound racing, but special interests derail the issue every year. Now is our opportunity to finally end the mistreatment of greyhounds, reduce the amount of gambling in our state, and restore community values.”

Lee is on the Constitution Revision Commission, which has the power to place amendments on the ballot and meets every 20 years. Lee would need to convince the majority of the commission members to allow the proposal on the 2018 ballot before the decision would be passed to voters, according to the Democrat.

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Update: Florida Voters in Charge Amendment Half Way to Signature Goal and more Backing from Disney

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to pass the Voters in Charge Ballot Initiative in Florida. The ballot measure seeks to add a constitutional amendment that requires a final vote of the people prior to any gambling legislation being implemented. So far the petition has passed all the normal steps on its way being on the ballot, including a look by the Supreme Court. Its now being reported that more than half the required signatures have been gathered and Disney is continuing to lend its support to this important ballot measure by contributing another $575 thousand to the efforts. Florida Politics reports:

A proposed constitutional amendment aimed at limiting gambling’s expansion in the state now has more than 600,000 signatures, its backers said Monday. Voters in Charge, the political committee behind the amendment, said it’s “over halfway towards its goal of gathering 1.1 million signatures in order to reach the required number of 766,200 valid petitions to appear on the 2018 General Election ballot.”

“Tens of thousands of Floridians are signing our petition each week and we are on track to accomplish our goal of securing enough signatures for ballot placement by year’s end,” said *John Sowinski*, chairman of Voters in Charge.

“We look forward to being on the 2018 ballot, mounting an aggressive statewide campaign and returning the ultimate authority to approve casino gambling to the people of Florida where it belongs,” Sowinski said in a statement.

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Florida’s Voters in Charge Petition Reaches 200K Signature and Receives addition backing by Disney

Casino Watch Focus has reported on Voter’s In Charge petition for Florida voters. The idea is simple, voters should have the final say in gambling expansion. It shouldn’t be enough for legislators to pass gambling expansion, in especially in an era of backroom deals and cronyism. They believe when an issue has such a drastic impact on Florida families, specifically gambling expansion, the final decision should be left to the voters. So far the petition has passed all the normal steps on its way being on the ballot, including a look by the Supreme Court. Its now being reported that an important milestone is being reached and additional support continues. An online source reports: 

Disney Worldwide Services, part of the Disney entertainment empire, contributed another $600,000 in August into a Florida ballot initiative that could make it harder to expand gambling in the state. This, according to a newly filed campaign-finance report.

As of Aug. 31, Disney had contributed $1.75 million of the $1.98 million raised by a political committee known as Voters In Charge. The group is at the forefront of efforts to get the initiative on the November 2018 ballot. The initiative would change the Florida Constitution by giving voters the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling” in the state.

The political committee needs to submit a total of 766,200 petition signatures to get on the ballot. As of Sept. 11, it had submitted 216,469 signatures, according to the state Division of Elections website. The committee had spent $1.47 million as of Aug. 31, with the majority of the money going to petition gathering and verification.

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Disney backs Florida Initiative Petition Efforts to Allow Voters the Final Say in State Gambling Matters

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing progress of the initiative petition by Voters in Charge which seeks to make all gambling expansion decisions passed by the legislature pass a vote of the people before they can become law. Many view this as a wonderful check on gambling expansion given the resent report that 84% of Florida voters want to hold the line or dial back gambling in the state. Most recently, the petition passed a legal challenge and the Florida Supreme Court cleared the bill to proceed, ruling it properly dealt with one subject and is not misleading. Now, Disney has decided to back the effort to collect the final signatures to put it on the 2018 ballot. An online source explains:

According to the group’s information on Facebook, Voters in Charge is sponsoring a ballot initiative “to give Florida voters, not politicians, the exclusive right to approve or disapprove casino gambling.”

Disney’s support for Voters in Charge jibes with the corporation’s previous claims that destination casinos would spoil the family-friendly vibe that its DisneyWorld resort prefers to give off. Disney is one of the highest – if not the top – contributor in the political committee’s campaign last month. 

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Florida Initiative Petition Amendment to Require Voters to Approve Gambling Expansion clears Florida Supreme Court Challenge

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling amendment proposed by Voter’s in Charge. The petition seeks to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot giving voters the last vote on gambling expansion. As it stands now, the Florida legislature can pass gambling expansion even when the vast majority clearly supports leaving gambling where it is or ever reducing current gambling levels. The amendment would leave the final decision to the voters. The petition was challenged and the Supreme Court reviewed submitted briefs. After entertaining all arguments, the Supreme Court has ruled the petition doesn’t violate any state provisions and can proceed to the voters once the appropriate amount of signatures are gathered. The SunSentinel explains:

The court ruled 4-2 that the amendment’s wording was not misleading and sticks to one subject. The amendment gives Florida voters the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.”

Backers of the amendment will still need to gather more than 700,000 signatures to make the 2018 ballot. They had submitted 74,626 signatures as of Thursday, according to the state Division of Elections.

Each chamber has passed their own gambling bills this month and they differ quite a bit. When that happens, they come together to produce a final bill that both sides can agree on. This ruling has caused the Florida legislature to cancel plans for a conference between the House and Senate to discuss their respective gambling bills. The SunSentinel continues:

Both the House and Senate have passed gambling bills this session, which ends May 5. The two bills are vastly different, forcing the two chambers to go into a conference to iron out the details.

That conference had been tentatively set for 4 p.m. Thursday, but the court’s decision to allow the constitutional amendment to go forward indefinitely postponed it, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

“The Supreme Court ruled today on voter control of gaming. I want to digest the decision before moving forward,” said conference chairman Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

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