The battle is beginning to heat up in Florida regarding sports betting and it seems that neither side is playing fair. Allegations of improper petition collections and outright fraud have been claimed by one side. But that organization making the accusations has not disclosed that the “grassroots” effort that people assume it is representing is actually an “astroturf” political action committee (PAC) that is funded by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, who would benefit the most from the amendments not making it to the ballot.

Forged Signatures, Inaccurate Addresses on Petitions

There are two organizations that are looking to gather petitions to get an amendment on the November 2022 ballot for consideration. One group is Florida Voters in Charge, backed by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, while the other is Florida Education Champions, which is backed by DraftKings and FanDuel. These organizations are looking to have sports betting opened up to a free market system (more on this in a moment). The two organizations have spent $49 million and $36 million, respectively, in pursuing a petition drive to get the amendment on the ballot for a referendum vote.

These petition drives are part of the problem for some groups. Florida voting officials have noted that there has been a sizable number of inaccurate petitions that have been turned in by both the LVSC and the DraftKings/FanDuel petitioners. In fact, the allegations have gone as far as suggesting that there have been forgeries and “fake signatures” for people who do not live at the address listed.

Mahsa Saeidi, an investigative reporter with WFLA-TV in Tampa, reported on the issue after being contacted by the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections. The elections official, Julie Marcus, alleged that a sizeable chunk of the signatures on these petitions were either forgeries or they did not represent “the voice of the voters.” Saeidi tried to locate TWO of the signees on the petitions but found only empty lots on the address that was given for the signatures.

Anti-Gaming Group Actual Front for Seminole Tribe

What Saeidi is not reporting on is that the major group that is opposing the petition drive, Standing Up for Florida, is actually an “astroturf” political action committee (PAC). An astroturf” PAC is meant to look like an organization started by normal citizens but is actually being driven by a group who is against an action. In this case, it is only the entity that would be affected by an open sports gaming – and potentially more – industry in the state.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has a complete monopoly on casino gaming in the state of Florida. In April of 2021, the tribe and the state of Florida signed a compact that would continue to allow for the Seminoles to operate the only casinos in the state. The Seminoles have enlisted Standing Up for Florida, which operates in a questionable manner in its own right. The address for the “Standing Up for Florida” PAC traces back to a UPS store located in Tallahassee. The chairman of Standing Up for Florida is Rick Asnani, who has been accused of using force to intimidate people that are trying to get the petitions signed. The Seminoles have contributed at least $10 million to this group and its efforts to stop the petition drive from being successful.

Lawsuits are flying on this case, from both sides, and it may impact whether the amendment makes the ballot come November. Currently the state of Florida’s compact signed with the Seminole Tribe for sports betting has been put on hold because of lawsuits that state the compact violated the 2018 amendment to the Florida Constitution that made it law that any new gaming would have to be approved by the voters. It may be some time before any action is resolved on that issue, let alone on the petition battle.

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