Disney vs. Gambling: Bankrolling Anti-Gambling Laws in Florida

Anti-gambling laws are increasingly seen as draconian and puritanical. With mature, regulated gambling markets now successfully in operation in numerous different jurisdictions, including some US states (for example New Jersey), anything else feels firmly like a backwards step. Yet not every company feels the same, and there are some that are prepared to spend big in bankrolling moves to clamp down on gambling activity.

One of the most current examples is Disney, which is continuing to fund efforts to restrict gambling freedoms in the state of Florida. Their involvement concerns a proposition scheduled for ballot in November, which will allow voters to have their say on measures that would introduce even more restrictions to gambling in the Sunshine state.

Disney Worldwide Services has teamed up with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, with each contributing around $5 million to a political action committee called ‘Voters In Charge’. The body has been setup to support the amendment, which would have the effect of preventing any further expansion of gambling freedoms within the state.

Known as Amendment 3, it is now expected that the next few months will see increasingly tense stand-offs between its supporters and those that want Florida to adopt a more modern approach to structuring its gambling laws.

As of today, Disney stands as one of the campaign’s most significant backers, having ploughed around $14.6 million into the fight for Amendment 3. Meanwhile, the Seminole Tribe, which runs casinos including the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in the state, has contributed just under $12 million to the cause.

According to the most recent filings, the PAC now has access to funds of $20 million to fight its corner. The ballot proposal would make all gambling subject to the exclusive authorisation of the people of Florida – a rewriting of the state’s constitution that would veto the decision-making of elected representatives around the gambling sector. Instead, any new casino or gambling games would have to be specifically approved in an election in the state, which would seriously limit the roll-out of new gambling innovations.

From the point of view of the Seminole Tribe, it’s apparent that the amendment would be a boon for entrenched operators. Anything else than their support for the amendment would open them up to fresh competition, which could legitimately be expected to undermine their business.

Disney has itself been a long-term champion of restrictive rights around gambling. The ballot needs to reach the 60% threshold in order to trigger the amendment to the constitution, which local analysts suggest is looking like a tough, although not impossible, hurdle to pass.

As well as the tough electoral threshold at 60%, there is already stiff competition on the No side, with several well-funded groups circling. Vote No on 3 and Citizens for the Truth About Amendment 3 are reported to have the backing of gambling industry money, which will be in no short supply given the severity of the position for the industry there.

Many within Florida’s gambling circles consider the amendment to be problematic for the expansion and development of the state’s blossoming gambling sector. This could feasibly lead to lower levels of employment, or harm gambling revenues across the state unnecessarily.

Gambling executive Isadore ‘Izzy’ Havenick told local media there were real jobs at stake.

“The pari-mutuels and the ancillary businesses that work with us provide a lot of jobs and tax revenue to the state and to local communities. We have to defend ourselves.”

It remains to be seen whether the proposition can gain enough support ahead of the November ballot to pass into law. With war chests building on both sides, it looks like this is a battle that’s just about to get underway.

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