Category Archives: Elected Officials

Former Florida House of Representatives Will Weatherford provides a politicians perspective for giving the power to the people with a Yes on Amendment 3 vote

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing progression of Florida Amendment 3.  As the election approaches, its important to understand they wide array of support for Amendment 3.  Former Florida House of Representative Will Weatherford provided a much needed perspective in a guest article published by Florida Politics:

I am writing today to deal with unfinished business.

After spending eight years in the Florida Legislature, the last two serving as speaker of the House, I came to a conclusion about the future of casino gambling in Florida.

Some decisions are better put into the hands of the people.

So, in 2014, I proposed a constitutional amendment giving voters control over gambling. The idea never made it through the Legislature and on to the ballot, but the need for it has not diminished. So, Florida voters took matters into their own hands.

More than 1 million Floridians signed petitions to put Amendment 3 on the ballot. It puts the voters in charge of gambling decisions.

I would like to claim I was ahead of the curve in promoting this idea four years ago.

But back in 1968, my predecessors in the Florida Legislature had the same idea. They recognized that gambling wasn’t just another issue. The impact casinos could have on communities and the state warranted a higher authority than the Legislature to sign off on gambling expansion decisions.

And so they deferred to the people, putting a provision in the Florida Constitution that prohibited most forms of gambling, unless voters passed an amendment to allow them.

Five times, from 1978 to 2004, voters weighed in on gambling initiatives. They rejected three proposals to build Las Vegas-style casinos, but they also approved the Florida Lottery as well as slot machines in Broward and Miami-Dade pari-mutuels.

The conclusion might be voters were open-minded, yet understandably cautious.

If only Florida lawmakers left well enough alone. But instead, in more recent years, state legislators went in the opposite direction of their predecessors from 1968. Faced with conflicting legal opinions, the Legislature considered dozens of proposals that would greatly expand casino gambling in Florida without voter signoff.

From my personal experience, I can tell you this was a mistake. Casino interests have become one of the most powerful special interest groups in Tallahassee. The pressure they apply to the political process is nonstop. It is why, almost every legislative session, we see casino expansion on the agenda.

The Legislature only meets for 60 days every year, so there is much to do and little time to do it. The time, energy and resources spent on gambling bills have made them an ongoing diversion. It is frustrating to see the priorities of Floridians — such as jobs, education, health care and the environment — take a back seat to the priorities of casinos.

I have heard many times the call for Tallahassee to come up with a “comprehensive solution’’ to gambling — that we can allow a resort casino here or there, open the door to more slot machines outside South Florida and then call it a day. It is a mythical concept. No matter how many casinos are approved, no matter how many forms of gambling are allowed, the demand for more will come as quickly as the next legislative session. It is what I once called the drip, drip, drip of gambling expansion.

In watching this process play out, I began to appreciate the wisdom of our predecessors in 1968. Tallahassee is not the place for gambling decisions.

If nothing more, taking gambling off the political agenda will allow lawmakers to focus on the issues that matter most to their constituents.

Florida certainly wouldn’t be alone in allowing voter control over gambling. About half of the states have a similar requirement.

In the past few years, voters in states such as New York, New Jersey, Maine, Ohio and Maryland have weighed in on gambling expansion. If there is a trend in how they decide, it is that they weigh each proposal on its individual merits, approving some and rejecting others.

Consider New Jersey. In 1978, voters there became the first in the country to approve a major expansion of gambling, allowing casinos in Atlantic City. After multiple casinos there went bankrupt in 2014, gambling interests and their political supporters pushed for more casinos in northern New Jersey.

Almost 80 percent of voters rejected the idea, the most lopsided referendum result in the state’s history.

Voters know when to say when. They serve as a check and balance on the political process.

Voter control works. That is why I proposed restoring it in 2014 and why I support Amendment 3 now.

___

*Will Weatherford* served in the Florida House of Representatives from
2006-2014 and was House speaker from 2012-14.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION

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Yes on Amendment 3 – Voter Control of Gambling in Florida

Casino Watch Focus has reported the ongoing progression of Florida Amendment 3.  The Amendment found itself on the Nov ballot with easy and the polls have shown overwhelming support.  That said, it’s still important to clearly understand the three reasons why you should vote Yes on Amendment 3.  The Voters in Charge website provides great resources for those looking to dive deeper into the issue.  Luckily, it’s an extremely straight forward amendment that requires any gambling expansion decisions by the Florida legislator to be approved by voters before it can become law.  Voters in Charge provided three clear reasons why this is a very easy Yes vote:

  1. Amendment 3 empowers voters—not politicians and lobbyists.For decades, Florida voters decided casino gambling issues in the Sunshine State.  Then, politicians took that power for themselves.  Amendment 3 simply returns control of casino gambling issues to the voters.  That’s how it used to work in Florida—and how it still works in states across the country.  Most Americans already have the power to vote on casino gambling issues—you should, too!

  2. Amendment 3 reduces casino corruption.In the last decade, powerful casino gambling interests gave over $50 million to Florida politicians.  Today, they control many politicians—but they can’t control   Amendment 3 ends casino corruption by putting voters—not politicians and lobbyists—in charge of gambling decisions in Florida.

  3. Amendment 3 allows our elected officials to focus on more important issues.Unfortunately, casino interests have so much money and influence that they often “set the agenda” in Tallahassee.  Amendment 3 takes the power away from Tallahassee, so our elected officials can stop focusing on gambling and start working on issues that affect all of us, like: education, traffic, healthcare, jobs and the environment—just to name a few!

 

For more information, please watch the following brief video and visit the Voters in Charge website

 

 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Asks Federal Government for Sports Betting Oversight while States Fight for Their Right to Regulate

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to legalize sport betting. The Supreme Court ruled that the federal law that prevented nationwide sports betting was unconstitutional. As a result, states are now able to legalize this form of gambling. Naturally, the sports leagues are very concerned given their position has always been to oppose legalized sports betting due to worry of the integrity of the game. Now that federal law has been overturned however, the leagues are getting involved in a variety of ways. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is asking Congress to establish uniform policies based on four core principles. Yahoo sports provides Goodell’s statement:

As it was for my predecessors, there is no greater priority for me as the Commissioner of the National Football League than protecting the integrity of our sport. Our fans, our players and our coaches deserve to know that we are doing everything possible to ensure no improper influences affect how the game is played on the field. This week’s ruling by the Supreme Court has no effect on that unwavering commitment.

We have spent considerable time planning for the potential of broadly legalized sports gambling and are prepared to address these changes in a thoughtful and comprehensive way, including substantial education and compliance trainings for our clubs, players, employees and partners. These efforts include supporting commonsense legislation that protects our players, coaches and fans and maintains public confidence in our games. We are asking Congress to enact uniform standards for states that choose to legalize sports betting that include, at a minimum, four core principles:

1. There must be substantial consumer protections;
2. Sports leagues can protect our content and intellectual property from those who attempt to steal or misuse it;
3. Fans will have access to official, reliable league data; and
4. Law enforcement will have the resources, monitoring and enforcement tools necessary to protect our fans and penalize bad actors here at home and abroad.

At the same time Goodell and the leagues are looking after their interests, the states are also positioning themselves to get a cut of this new wave of gambling. Unfortunately for the states, it appears federal legislation is already in the works. An online source explains: 

State gambling regulators are fighting back against the major sports leagues’ assertion that US sports betting would be better regulated by the federal government than by individual states. A statement on Tuesday issued on behalf of four state regulators in Nevada, Michigan, Massachusetts and Louisiana by the International Center for Gaming Regulation at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, concludes that “coordinated action among jurisdictions” — rather than federal regulation — will be the key to protecting sports integrity and battling the black market. Goodell called on Congress to “enact uniform standards” for states that opt to regulate. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the subtext: why lobby for your interests in dozens of states when you can save a lot of money by just lobbying Congress? US Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is known to have had talks with the NFL and is planning to introduce federal sports betting legislation which, when it surfaces, is likely to include the league’s “core principles.”

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


UPDATE: Greyhound Industry Sues to Remove Dog Racing ‘Decoupling’ Ban from Florida Ballot

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to ban greyhound racing, but typically leave the gambling behind. This practice essentially creates mini-casinos and has been referred to as decoupling. Many are excited for the dog racing to come to an end, but most of those same proponents would like to see the gambling at those establishments end as well. An Amendment was proposed to do just that, but Florida State Sen. Tom Lee said he couldn’t get the amendment passed unless he allowed for the other forms of gambling to stay. Some who are opposed, such as former Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, believe this is a legislative issue and shouldn’t be passed as a constitutional amendment. It’s a complicated issue that isn’t very clear to would be voters who might believe the ban will eliminate the dog racing and all other gambling at the tracks. This is part of the basis for a new lawsuit filed to stop the constitutional amendment form going to the ballot in Nov. The Ledger explains: 

The proposal, placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, would outlaw greyhound racing at dog tracks by 2020, a process known as “decoupling.” Tracks would still be allowed to operate other, more lucrative gambling activities, such as slot machines and poker rooms.

But the Florida Greyhound Association and its president, breeder James Blanchard, maintain that the proposed ballot title and summary don’t fully inform voters about the impact of the amendment if approved. In a complaint filed Thursday in Leon County circuit court, lawyers for the plaintiffs raised what they deem numerous flaws in the amendment, which was backed by Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Massachusetts-based advocacy group GREY2K USA Worldwide.

Among the shortcomings alleged by the plaintiffs: The proposal does not advise voters that dog tracks still would be allowed to broadcast live greyhound races from other states. And the measure would only ban “commercial” dog racing, which means that kennel clubs would be allowed to continue dog competitions, the complaint says.

There is also concern that the law is entirely too broad as to how it attempts to regulate the dog racing industry. There is worry that it could impact animals in ways clearly not intended by the amendments authors. The Ledger continues: 

The lawsuit also alleges that the text of the proposal — which voters won’t see on the ballot — could have implications far beyond the greyhound-racing industry

The proposed amendment says the “humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida.” That language “might ultimately apply to animals other than dogs,” plaintiffs’ lawyers Jeff Kottkamp, a former lieuten.ant governor, and Paul Hawkes, a former appellate judge, wrote in the 17-page complaint.

“For example, would this statement, once adopted by voters who were not informed that it was contained in the amendment, be utilized in the future to limit horse racing? To limit the use of hunting dogs? A voter who favors ending dog racing might very well decline to pass an amendment with such a broadly-stated provision for fear that once adopted as status quo in connection to dog racing, such statement might be expanded to limit or prohibit other activities or livelihoods that involve other animals,” the lawyers wrote.

Most viewed the filing of the lawsuit as a natural progression of an industry attempting to save the racing. Others believe it’s the wrong approach to actually ending the greyhound racing industry and more definitive steps should be taken. Beyond the specifics, there are those that believe the lawsuit wont succeed and the issue will end up on the Nov Ballot as Amendment 13. 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Seminole Deal Struck with Gov Scott, but Lawmakers still want a Special Gambling Session

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing negotiations between Florida State and the Seminole Tribe to reach a new gambling compact. The session ended with no formal deal in place, but it was expected the Seminoles would continue payments as normal. Gov Rick Scott worked directly with the Tribe after the session ended and has announced a formal agreement to continue payments through next year. An online source reports: 

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. *Rick Scott* announced that the state had extended its casino revenue sharing agreement with the Seminoles through May 2019. The agreement, which was signed in 2017, calls for the tribe to provide the state with around $300m per year in exchange for exclusive rights to certain gaming products.

Scott said the agreement “ensures the Tribe’s current commitment remains intact” but Scott stressed that Wednesday’s deal “does not make any changes to state gaming law or expand current gaming operations in Florida in any way.”

The 2017 agreement was itself a stopgap deal due to the inability of state legislators to approve a new gaming compact with the tribe, which operates the Hard Rock International family of casinos.

However, this action doesn’t appear to have stopped discussions by the legislature to convene a special session to address gambling. The Tampa Bay Times explains: 

The agreement, however, doesn’t look like it’s going to stop talk of a gaming special session sometime in the next month. House and Senate leaders face an expensive election cycle that could benefit from gaming industry contributions, and they are staring down a constitutional amendment that, if voters approve, could take away their control over gaming expansion in Florida.

“The discussions on the special session are continuing,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the incoming Senate president and the Senate’s key negotiator.

Galvano now says the reason for a special session has more to do with Amendment 3. The constitutional amendment is backed primarily by Disney Worldwide and as the support of the Seminole Tribe. If it gets the 60 percent of the vote needed to become law, legislators will have less influence over all gaming decisions, and the political fundraising that comes from the pari-mutuel industry could shrink.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Florida Ends Session with No Gambling Bills Passed – Seminole Tribe Provided Assurances to Continue the Revenue Sharing Compact in the Interim

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling expansion issues in Florida. Many issues were on the table this legislative session including a new gambling compact between the State and the Seminole Tribe, a greyhound racing ban, specific regulations on types of card games to be allowed, and the location and expiation of new slot machines in the states. The hope was to address these issues this legislative session, as it seems clear that a new amendment will pass a vote of the people to require all future gambling legislation to be approved by the voters. Most recently though, Casino Watch Focus reported that those goals were unlikely to be achieved as the focus of the Florida legislators would be shifting to focus on gun control legislation that was prompted after the Parkland school shooting. After those efforts were complete, gambling discussions were given some very last minute life, but as reported by The Palm Beach Post, those efforts have come to a close with no new gambling bills being passed:

Republican legislative leaders had resurrected the issue in the waning days of the session as they tried to strike a deal between the gambling-leery House and the Senate, which was willing to expand slot machines to counties where voters have approved the lucrative machines.

But after a day of horse-trading, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron declared the issue off the table. “Despite the good faith efforts of both the House and Senate, a gaming bill will not pass the Legislature this session,” the leaders said in a statement Friday evening. “Gaming remains one of the most difficult issues we face as a Legislature. We are pleased with the progress made over the last week and know that our colleagues will continue to work on this important issue.”

Lawmakers were anxious to address the perennially elusive issue due to a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would give voters control of future gambling decisions, something now largely left up to the Legislature.

“We spent so much time, and rightfully so, on the school-safety legislation, and we found ourselves on a Friday, with a Sunday deadline if we had extended, and the tribe’s not up here,” Galvano said, referring to school-safety legislation stemming from the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Broward County high school.

One of the more pressing issues at hand, was the formation of a new gambling compact between the Florida and the Seminole Tribe. The legal issues at hand have stemmed from the exclusivity aspects of certain card games in exchange for income to the State. The Palm Beach Post continues:

Also, legislators wanted to ensure a steady stream of income from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The money could be in peril after a federal court ruling about controversial “designated player” games at pari-mutuel cardrooms throughout the state. Striking a new deal, called a compact, with the Seminoles, which would be part of any gambling legislation, has proved elusive for legislators.

One of the critical provisions of a 2010 deal between the state and tribe, giving the tribe “exclusivity” over banked card games, such as blackjack, expired in 2015. That spawned a protracted legal battle and previously futile attempts by lawmakers to seal a new agreement. The tribe pays more than $300 million a year under the banked-card games portion of the 2010 agreement.

But the legal battle focused heavily on what are known as “designated player games,” which are played at pari-mutuel facilities. After a federal judge sided with the tribe in a dispute over whether the lucrative designated-player games breached the Seminoles’ exclusivity over offering banked card games, the tribe agreed to continue making payments to the state, and gambling regulators promised to “aggressively enforce” the manner in which cardrooms conduct the designated player games.

While the tribe agreed to temporarily continue paying the state, some lawmakers are eager for the financial certainty a new compact would provide. But Galvano said he has spoken with a representative of the tribe, who assured him that the Seminoles intend to maintain the revenue-sharing agreement with the state. 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


ESRB Responds to Sen. Hassan’s Letter to Regulate Gambling-esque Loot Boxes Offering a Completely Meaningless Solution

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing issue of loot boxes in video games. Many seek to label them as gambling and want to see the appropriate regulations in place. The game that brought the issue to light was a Disney owned property, Star Wars and the game EA produced, Battlefront II. Hawaii legislator Chris Lee candidly referred to the game as an online, Star Wars themed casino, designed to take kids money. Since the issue has become more clearly understood, more legislators have pressured the industry for the appropriate protections moving forward. Most recentlyUS Senator Maggie Hassan wrote an open letter to the ESRB, the video game self-regulator body, asking them to address the issue before bodies like Congress had to step in to offer protection. The ESRB finally released a statement outlining a new policy, and it should come as no surprise that their recommended actions do absolutely nothing to protect consumers or adequately inform parents as to the dangers of loot boxes, or even to their inclusion in games for that matter. Forbes very precisely breaks down the situation and comments from Sen Hass demonstrates why the ESRB’s suggested policy action wont advance protections in any meaningful way:

The ESRB made an announcement yesterday that it will now start labeling games that sell loot boxes. The problem? It will also be labeling games that sell /anything/, loot boxes, microtransactions, boosts, even DLC, using one, catch-all “In-Game Purchases” label.

The issue that was immediately pointed out by everyone was that nearly every game on the market contains “in-game purchases” in 2018, so this will be a sticker slapped on pretty much all titles, barring perhaps some indies. Hassan herself even saw this as a pretty obvious dodge, saying this after the announcement was made:

“While today’s announcement of the creation of a new ‘In-Game Purchases’ label and the ESRB’s response to my letter are a positive step for parents and consumers, I am still concerned by the ESRB’s skepticism regarding the potentially addictive nature of loot boxes and microtransactions in video games. I will work with all relevant stakeholders to continue oversight on these issues and ensure that meaningful improvements are made to increase transparency and consumer protections.”

The ESRB very clearly understood that people would see through such meaningless actions, so they attempted to preemptively address everyone’s criticism. As Forbes points out, their response was nonsense and it’s incredibly obvious that the industry won’t be attempting to address the issue unless legislative bodies like Congress force them to protect children from this form of gambling:

The ESRB anticipated that it would get flack for not targeting loot boxes specifically with this move, and president Patricia Vance said this in its defense:

“I’m sure you’re all asking why aren’t we doing something more specific to loot boxes,” Vance said. “We’ve done a lot of research over the past several weeks and months, particularly among parents. What we’ve learned is that a large majority of parents don’t know what a loot box is. Even those who claim they do, don’t really understand what a loot box is. So it’s very important for us to not harp on loot boxes per se, to make sure that we’re capturing loot boxes, but also other in-game transactions.”

This is, of course, nonsense. While the ESRB is setting up a site to better educate parents on in-game spending in addition to this new “in-game purchases” sticker, the point is that the ESRB is totally ducking the real issue here. They still want to get /nowhere/ near declaring loot boxes gambling and doing something drastic like making all loot box-infused games M or AO rated, so this is their incredibly phoned-in compromise.

To me, this is about as useful a gambling regulatory body (run by the casinos, not the government) informing you that a stay at a casino will cost you money, but without differentiating between spending cash on food, blackjack, drinks, poker, hotel rooms or slot machines. Kids can order food and drinks and stay at the hotel, but they can’t gamble for obvious reasons. But the ESRB with its new system is lumping /all/ forms of spending together in a way that is bound to do nothing but confuse parents even further, obscuring the real issue.

It is absolutely absurd that the ESRB is creating a system that would group something like /Horizon Zero Dawn/’s Frozen Wilds [Downloadable Content (DLC)] in with something like /Battlefront 2/ loot boxes. This “solution” is totally glossing over the crux of the issue, which is not that players are able to spend money past the $60 asking price of a game, but that /the way/ in which they’re asked to spend money has often been honed by psychologists to ensure it’s as addicting, if not more so, than traditional gambling. But the ESRB is not touching that with a ten foot pole, relying on the old argument that since nothing of “actual value” is won during this gambling because the items are digital, that it isn’t gambling at all. And yet there is nothing psychologically addictive about wanting to buy DLC for a game you’ve purchased, while there certainly is for players, often children, that are spending dozens, hundreds, or thousands of dollars on randomized, slot-machine-like loot box rewards across the majority of releases today.

So yes, the ESRB did something that is essentially nothing, and it’s clear they’re not going to be a player in this fight unless legislation forces them to change their tune. 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION