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Seminole Tribe fighting two-front battle to keep exclusivity

Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 8:13 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The Seminole Tribe has been pushing back in the courts against lawsuits challenging the tribe’s new compact with the state and now it’s using the air waves to fight against citizen initiatives seeking to expand gaming beyond tribal lands.

So far, the tribe’s efforts have been successful keeping its exclusive rights to gambling in Florida.

“Watch out Florida,” a new ad backed by the Seminole Tribe begins.

The tribe has pumped $10 million into the new ad campaign airing across the state.

“Don’t sign the gambling petitions,” said the narrator in the video, referencing three citizen initiatives that would expand gambling off tribal lands.

But Christina Johnson with Florida Education Champions, the group backing an initiative to legalize sports betting, argued the tribe’s message is hypocritical.

That’s because the Tribe supported Amendment 3 in 2018, which gave voters ultimate control over gambling in Florida.

“The Seminole bosses are spending millions of dollars asking Florida voters not to sign a petition on the very same issue: to have a voice in the expansion of gaming,” said Johnson.

The tribe is also defending its new compact with the state in the courts.

One suit has already been thrown out by a federal judge.

Attorney and gaming expert Bob Jarvis predicts the two remaining lawsuits will suffer a similar fate.

“If a law student had submitted either of those cases as a paper, you’d give him or her an F,” said Jarvis, who is also a professor of law at Nova Southeastern University Florida.

At least one lawsuit claims because the new compact allows sports bets to be placed off tribal lands, it constitutes an illegal expansion of gaming under Amendment 3.

But Jarvis argued Amendment 3 makes no mention of sports betting, which was illegal under federal law at the time the amendment was drafted and approved by the state supreme court.

“For a court to now say, oh but a voter in 2018 would have understood that a vote for Amendment 3 was a vote against sports betting, again, the height of folly,” said Jarvis.

Jarvis is also skeptical the three citizen initiatives will pass.

Up against the tribe’s deep pockets, getting the 60 percent voter approval needed for passage will be a difficult hurdle.

Florida Education Campions told us it has roughly 250,000 signatures collected already, enough to get a review by the State Supreme Court.

The group will still need nearly 650,000 more by February 1st to make it on the November ballot.

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