TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Two major online platforms have dropped $20 million into an effort to legalize sports betting in Florida and direct the state’s proceeds from the popular activity to education.
DraftKings and FanDuel each contributed $10 million to the Florida Education Champions political committee late last month, according to the state Division of Elections website.
The committee filed a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting, in a move that could unravel a $2.5 billion deal struck by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
“Thank you to DraftKings and FanDuel for stepping up to the plate in an incredible way to kick off our amendment process that stands to help all Floridians. Our amendment will direct hundreds of millions of additional dollars toward Florida’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund and open up the market for online sports betting to competition,” David Johnson, chairman of the political committee, said in a press release issued Monday.
The sports-betting behemoths’ $20 million contributions comprised the total amount of money collected by the committee in a campaign report filed on Monday when campaign finance reports were due. The onslaught of funds comes as committees try to head off a new law aimed at making it harder to pass constitutional amendments.
The law, passed by Republican legislators this spring, would place a $3,000 limit on contributions to political committees as they collect petition signatures for ballot initiatives. The limit would make it much harder --- critics say impossible --- to collect the required petition signatures.
The law (SB 1890) was slated to take effect July 1, a week after the multimillion-dollar contributions to the sports-betting initiative. But U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor blocked the law, saying it runs afoul of the First Amendment.
The proposal would authorize sports betting at professional sports venues, pari-mutuel facilities and statewide via online platforms.
If betting revenues are taxed, the tax dollars would have to go into what is known as the state Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, according to the proposed amendment, which was posted June 25 on the state Division of Elections website. The contributions from DraftKings and FanDuel were made on June 23 and June 24, respectively.
“It is our shared goal to have a safe, legal and regulated market for offering online sports betting in the Sunshine State. Once passed by Florida voters in November 2022, this initiative will ensure that the State of Florida shares in the sports wagering revenue that is currently going entirely to the offshore, illegal market,” Cory Fox, FanDuel vice president of government affairs, said in the press release.
The sports-betting proposal would undo an agreement, known as a “compact,” signed by DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. in April that would put the tribe in control of sports betting in the state. Lawmakers approved the compact during a special legislative session in May. Under the compact, the Seminoles have pledged to provide $2.5 billion in payments to the state over five years, with additional money in the ensuing years. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow other entities to host sports betting in addition to the tribe, and would result in a decrease in the Seminoles’ payments to the state.
The compact has been submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees Indian gambling issues. The Bureau of Indian Affairs can approve the deal, reject it or allow it to go into effect without taking any action.
Under the compact, the tribe would serve as the hub for online sports betting throughout the state, with pari-mutuel operators contracting with Seminoles. The plan would allow people in the state to place sports bets using apps on cell phones, with the Seminoles hosting the sports-betting activity through computer servers on tribal lands.
Seminole Gaming spokesman Gary Bitner blasted the sports-betting ballot initiative.
“This is millions of out-of-state corporate dollars to try and manipulate the people of Florida, who are smarter than that. They think they can buy their way into the state. Our team intends to use our Florida dollars to protect the interests of the people of Florida,” Bitner told The News Service of Florida.