Florida TaxWatch has provided the 2018 Voter Guide to Florida’s Constitutional Amendments in order to help educate voters on the issues before them on this November’s ballot. Over the next couple of weeks, the Highlands News-Sun will share with its readers the in-depth analysis of the 12 amendments to help you better understand the often confusing amendment language so that you can make an informed decision on Election Day.

To download your own copy of the Voter Guide, go to floridataxwatch.org/Library/2018VoterGuide.

Amendment 3

Title

Voter Control of Gambling in Florida

Placed by

Citizens Initiative, Voters in Charge

Amending

Adds new Section 29 to Article X

Ballot Summary

“This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling by requiring that in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law, it must be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution. Affects articles X and XI. Defines casino gambling and clarifies that this amendment does not conflict with federal law regarding state/tribal compacts.”

A Yes Vote Means

The citizens’ initiative process would be the exclusive method of authorizing casino gambling in Florida, meaning the voters would have sole authority to approve casino gambling. The Legislature would no longer be able to authorize casino gaming, either

through statute or by bringing a proposed constitution amendment to the ballot. The other methods to amend the Florida Constitution — the Constitutional Revision Commission, the Tax and Budget Reform Commission, and a Constitutional Convention — also could not be used to bring a casino gambling proposal to the ballot. The Legislature would retain the ability to restrict, regulate, or tax any gambling activity through general law.

A No Vote Means

The Legislature would retain its authority to approve casino gambling trough general law or by bringing a constitutional amendment to the ballot. The citizens’ initiative process could still be used to authorize or ban casino gambling.

The Arguments

Pros

The people of Florida should have the final say on whether or not to legalize casino-style gambling. Without voter control, gambling will continue to spread throughout Florida. Voter control will keep the influence of lobbyists and special interests out of the decision on gambling.

Cons

Legislators are elected to make these kind of decisions, they should still have that authority. The amendment is simply a way to effectively ban gambling. Many Floridians want gambling, and casinos would be a source of new jobs, economic development, and government revenue. Future legislatures would not be able to use casino gaming as a means to fund government services. Voters can already bring proposed gambling amendments to the ballot.

Analysis

Despite a general prohibition against gambling in Florida law, several legal forms currently exist:

Pari-mutuels – Horse and dog racing was legalized in 1931, after the Legislature overrode the Governor’s veto. Jai-alai was legalized in 1935. There are now 39 licenses in Florida operating at 28 facilities (12 greyhound, 9 horse, 7 jai-alai).

Lottery – Voters approved the Florida Lottery in 1986 and it began operations in 1988.

Indian Gaming – The 1988 federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) gave native tribes the right to offer any games that are legal in the state. This allowed the Seminole tribe to install video lottery terminals. A 2010 compact between the state and the tribe gave the Seminoles exclusive authority to operate banked card games (such as blackjack) at five locations and to offer slots outside of Broward and Miami-Dade. In return, the Tribe shared revenue with the state (now approximately $350 million annually). A new compact was agreed to by the Governor and the Tribe in 2015, but it has not been ratified by the Legislature. Attempts by the Legislature in 2017 and 2018 to create a new compact failed.

Cardrooms – Poker was authorized at pari-mutuel facilities ($10 pot limit) in 1996. Limits have been raised three times and are now “no-limit.”

Slots – Slots were first legalized in 1935, only to be outlawed again two years later. In 2004, Florida voters narrowly (50.8 percent) approved a constitutional amendment to allow slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. There are now eight facilities offering slots. This allowed the Seminoles (due to IGRA) to install slot machines.

Clearly, there is already a considerable, and growing, amount of legalized gambling in Florida. Some of it was approved by the voters. Bringing full-scale casinos to Florida is another question, one that — at least until now — most Floridians haven’t wanted. Florida voters have rejected proposed constitutional amendments to allow casino gambling in 1978, 1986, and 1994.

But this amendment is not really about the pros and cons of casino gambling, although it is viewed by many as effectively at least a short-term ban. It is about whether the Legislature should have a say in the debate.

Florida voters already can, through the citizen’s initiative process, propose amendments to ban or authorize casino gambling. Amendment 3 would prohibit the Legislature from passing a law to authorize casino gambling, an issue it has debated for the last several sessions without being able to come to a resolution. But it would also not allow the Legislature to bring its own plan to the voters through passage of a joint resolution. Florida TaxWatch is not aware of any other issue the Legislature is prohibited from attempting to address by bringing a proposed amendment to the ballot (unless it would violate the U.S. Constitution).

There are some questions about the possible effects of Amendment 3. The state’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference, in its required Financial Impact Statement, says it is not clear if the amendment would be “prospective” or “retrospective.” If it is determined to be retrospective, it could result in any casino gambling activities already authorized (without a citizens’ initiative) becoming illegal. This includes some slot machines, electronic table games, and player-banked card games.

Another uncertainty concerns a May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that says unless directly regulated by Congress, states are free to offer sports betting. This is a potential lucrative revenue source for states, including Florida. There is debate as to whether Amendment 3 would prohibit sports betting in Florida. While casinos may not have broad public support, polls show sports betting is favored by a majority of Americans.

Fiscal Impact

The Revenue Estimating Conference determined that the amendment’s impact on state and local government revenues and costs, if any, cannot be determined at this time because of its unknown effect on gambling operations that have not been approved by voters through a constitutional amendment proposed by a citizens’ initiative process.

Conclusion

Gambling has always been a contentious issue in Florida, as evidenced by the Legislature not being able to pass a gambling bill for several sessions. While the amendment would likely rule out casinos for the near future, public sentiment could change.

And while the amendment would make the citizens’ initiative the exclusive method to bring casino gambling to the ballot, it must be remembered that the initiative process is the least transparent method to publicly vet proposed constitutional amendments. It is easy to envision a well-funded, pro-casino group getting enough signatures to bring a casino proposal to the ballot. This would still allow the special interests supporters want to keep out of the process to craft a proposal, but there would be no input or deliberation by the Legislature.

The amendment really boils down to whether or not voters trust the Legislature to decide the issue. If voters do not want the Legislature to continue efforts to authorize casinos, a better approach, although not necessarily the best one, would be an amendment to ban casino gambling. Voters would then still have the exclusive right to authorize it in the future, as proposed by Amendment 3, but the Legislature would at least be able to present voters with a plan. Keeping the Legislature completely out of any legitimate public policy debate is not what representative democracy is about.

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