Tag Archives: Steve Geller

Proposed Amendment Three to the Florida Constitution (Voter Control of Gambling) is misleading and far more expansive than most people believe. The exact impact of the Amendment is unknown, and it may have an unintended impact on Florida’s two Indian tribes. If it is passed now, it will be extremely difficult to undo.

Summary: Proposed Amendment Three to the Florida Constitution (Voter Control of Gambling) is misleading and far more expansive than most people believe. The exact impact of the Amendment is unknown, and it may have an unintended impact on Florida’s two Indian tribes. If it is passed now, it will be extremely difficult to undo.

The Seminole Indian Tribe of Florida and Walt Disney World have been the two main funders of proposed Amendment Three to the Florida Constitution. This Amendment, entitled “Voter Control of Gambling in Florida”, takes away from the Legislature much of the Legislature’s authority to amend gambling laws in Florida (the extent of which is uncertain), and instead requires a “citizens’ initiative pursuant to Article XI, section 3, in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law.”

Many people mistakenly believe that the “casino gambling” referred to in Amendment Three is limited to bringing in big new casinos. The wording of the Amendment cross-references 25 CFR 502.4, and includes
(a) Any House banking game, including but not limited to –
(1) Card games such as baccarat, chemin de fer, blackjack (21) and pai gow (if played as house banking games;
(2) Casino games such as roulette, craps, and keno
(b) Any slot machines as defined in 15 U.S.C. 1171(a)(1) and electronic or electromechanical facsimiles of any game of chance
(c) Any sports betting and pari-mutuel wagering, including but not limited to wagering on horse racing, dog racing or jai alai; or
(d) Lotteries

The wording of the amendment specifically exempts pari-mutuel wagering by stating “As used herein, ‘casino gambling’ does not include pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, dog racing, or jai alai exhibitions.” Note that there is no exemption in Amendment Three for the lottery language listed in 25 CFR! Depending on how Amendment Three is interpreted, this could have a significant negative effect on the Florida Lottery.

It is unclear what the actual effect of Amendment Three would be if it passes. This could be the Gaming Attorney/Administrative Law Attorney/Appellate Attorney full employment act. The Amendment may or may not be retroactive, meaning that it may or may not prevent types of gambling that are already legal in Florida. As the Florida Supreme Court determined when they ruled that the language could go on the ballot:
“The opponents primarily argue that the Initiative should not be placed on the ballot          because it is unclear whether, if passed, the amendment would apply retroactively            and what effect, if any, the amendment would have on gambling that is currently                legal in Florida—including gambling that was previously authorized by general law           rather than by citizens’ initiative. However, as the sponsor points out, the                             opponents’ arguments concern the ambiguous legal effect of the amendment’s text             rather than the clarity of the ballot title and summary.” (Florida Supreme Court                   SC16-778, SC16-871)

Thus, the Florida Supreme Court specifically stated that the Amendment has “an ambiguous legal effect” and declined to rule whether or not the amendment is retroactive. If they haven’t determined if it’s retroactive, and say it’s ambiguous , how can voters know what it will do?

The wording of Amendment Three states that “Florida Voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in the State of Florida.” What does that mean? Slot machines at Pari-Mutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties are authorized by the Florida Constitution. Would it require a new Constitutional amendment to authorize it in different Counties, or at locations other than Pari-Mutuels? The Florida Lottery has certain types of games. Would a new Constitutional Amendment be required to change the tickets, add locations, or sell the tickets in a new style? Could the Florida Lottery use its existing authority to add keno? Would “skill-based gaming” be permitted as a variation on slot machines, or would they require a new constitutional amendment? Can slot machine manufacturers even bring out new styles or themes of slot machines? There are far more questions than answers.

If Amendment Three is construed broadly, so as to require an initiative for any new types of gambling in Florida, I believe that would eventually bring gambling at Florida’s pari-mutuels to an end. A few decades ago, slot machines were electromechanical. Today they are electronic, and video poker, video blackjack, etc. have been determined to be slot machines because they contain random number generators. I can’t predict what new types of gambling will occur in the decades to come, but I do know that there will be new types of gambling, and if the Seminoles and/or the rest of the U.S. can keep up, but the Florida pari-mutuels and Florida Lottery can’t, then the pari-mutuels and Lottery will fall by the wayside. Would any significant number of people gamble today at a quasi-casino that only had electromechanical games?

Amendment Three could be construed more narrowly and be interpreted as saying that this would only prevent new people from entering legal gambling in Florida. It could be interpreted as saying that because Florida’s current Constitution specifically permits casino gambling at pari-mutuels and specifically permits the Lottery, that casino gambling is already permitted at those locations (maybe just in Miami Dade and Broward, maybe not). Therefore, while no other new operators can be permitted to operate places where casino gambling as defined above occurs, any type of casino gambling would be permitted at the current locations authorized in Florida’s Constitution. It is impossible to tell at this time what the Amendment actually does.

Also, the wording of the amendment seems perhaps intentionally confusing. As a County Commissioner in Broward County, Florida, and a former State Senator, I am frequently asked questions about the proposed amendments. Broward has generally been supportive of casino gambling. Many people seem to be supporting this amendment because they are supportive of expanded gambling in Florida, frustrated with the inability of the Florida Legislature to expand this gambling, and therefore believe that passing this will give more local control, enabling the voters of Broward to pass expanded gambling.

The summary of the Amendment says that “Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling”, but unless you follow the cross-reference to Article XI, section 3 of the Florida Constitution, the summary never explains whether the vote is a local vote or a Statewide vote. For example, the Platform Subcommittee of the Broward Democratic Party voted to support Amendment Three, because “#Homerule. Gives citizens the right to decide on casinos being built in their cities, instead of Tallahassee”. That is almost exactly the opposite of what the Amendment does. When I explain that Amendment Three requires a statewide petition drive, followed by a statewide vote (not a local vote) and passage by 60%, Broward voters seem horrified, and then oppose it. Please note that the Supreme Court ruling permitting the existing wording was approved by a vote of 4-2. Two Supreme Court Justices ruled that the Ballot Title and Summary were misleading.

In order to begin the initiative required by Amendment Three, it would require signatures from 8 percent of the voters in each of ½ of the state’s Congressional districts, and 8% of the total voters statewide, based on the number of votes cast in the last Presidential election. This is an amazingly high bar, and normally requires an extremely high expenditure of funds for paid petition gatherers. The Supreme Court of Florida would have to approve the wording of the proposed Petition. If all of this occurs, the proposed initiative would need 60% of the votes cast in order to pass. It is worth noting that many experts believe that Amendment Three will pass despite these obstacles. As of the date that I write this, it is estimated that the supporters of Amendment Three have raised over $27 million dollars, without any well-funded opposition thus far.

It seems quite clear that if Amendment Three does pass, it would be extremely difficult and expensive to try and rewrite the Constitution again to undo or amend this language to permit additional types of “casino gambling” in Florida. It is clear that an investment of tens of millions of dollars would be required to attempt to change the gambling laws, with no guarantee of success. Few if any companies would be willing to make that commitment. It may make sense for the Seminole Tribe to invest over ten million dollars because if Amendment Three passes, they believe that they would have a monopoly on all new types of gambling on Florida, including Sports Betting. It would make far less economic sense for any one company, which would be one of many companies engaging in gambling in Florida, to put up similar dollars without the same exclusivity that the Seminoles (and potentially the Miccosukees) would enjoy.

Finally, one of the biggest questions remaining is whether or not the Seminole Tribe of Florida may suffer from the law of Unintended Consequences. The Seminole Tribe clearly intended Amendment Three to not apply to Seminole Gambling. The wording of the Amendment states “In addition, nothing herein shall be construed to limit the ability of the State to negotiate gaming compacts pursuant to the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act…”(emphasis added) However, because of the wording that is used in the Amendment (and in a twist that only Lawyers can love), this may not be sufficient.

On November 14, 2007, and against my advice, Governor Charlie Crist signed a “Compact” with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Former Governor Crist is a close friend, and I warned him in advance that the Governor does not have the authority to enter into a compact under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The Governor has the authority to negotiate a compact, but he does not have the authority to execute the compact without Legislative approval. When Crist signed the Compact, he was sued five days later by the Florida House of Representatives. The Florida Supreme Court decided this issue in Florida House of Representatives v. The Honorable Charles J. Crist, Jr., (999 So. 2d 601). The Court chose not to take up the general question of whether the Governor has the authority to enter into a Compact with Florida Indian tribes under any circumstances without Legislative approval, although they cited to several other State and Federal decisions, and in each cited case, the Governor was ruled not to have such authority. Following judicial principles of deciding cases on narrow grounds when possible, the Supreme Court ruled that it would violate the Constitutional Separation of Powers for the Governor to enter into a compact with the Indian Tribes when the compact gives the Indians a type of gambling otherwise illegal in Florida. The Court stated at page 613:

“The House claims that the Compact violates the separation of powers on a number             of grounds.8 We find one of them dispositive. The Compact permits the Tribe to                   conduct certain Class III gaming that is prohibited under Florida law. Therefore, the           Compact violates the state’s public policy about the types of gambling that should               be  allowed. We hold that, whatever the Governor’s authority to execute compacts,             it  does not extend so far. The Governor does not have authority to agree to legalize           in some parts of the state, or for some persons, conduct that is otherwise illegal                   throughout the state.”

Crist negotiated a Compact with the Seminoles, but it required Legislative approval or ratification. The wording of Amendment Three only exempts negotiation of a Compact from Amendment Three. Of course, the New Governor of Florida will be able to negotiate a compact with the Seminole or Miccosukee tribes, as Governor Crist did. However, there is nothing in the language of Amendment Three that appears to exempt Legislative approval or ratification from Amendment Three. I believe that it would have been far clearer if Amendment Three said ““In addition, nothing herein shall be construed to limit the ability of the State to negotiate and ratify gaming compacts pursuant to the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act…”(emphasis added). The word ratification is missing from Amendment Three. I know that the Seminoles feel that the wording of Amendment Three is sufficient to cover both negotiations and ratification. I know that other Lawyers who I respect have a different opinion. I offer no conclusion here, but I believe that this is another ambiguity which may need to be decided by the Florida Supreme Court, if Amendment Three passes by the required 60% vote.

U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Sports Betting may have less impact in Florida than many believe

The United States Supreme Court has issued its ruling in Christie v. NCAA, Case 16-476, stating that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) is unconstitutional.  Many people mistakenly think that this has legalized Sports Betting.  I expect the ruling to be far less consequential than many think, especially in Florida.

No one knows how much is wagered on illegal Sports Betting in the US today because it’s, well, …illegal.  I’ve seen estimates ranging from $107 billion to $300 billion.  I think that today’s accurate number is probably somewhere between $150 billion and $200 billion, based on averaging the numbers I’ve seen, even though they’re only guesstimates. Some people assume that all of those wagers and more will immediately go into legal Sports Betting.  I disagree.

People enjoy the traditional Office Pool on things like the NCAA Basketball tournament, and other events.  Most of those people won’t stop the pools to go wager at a casino.  Some people wager on credit with illegal bookies who have “creative” ways of collecting debts.  Those people will still go to bookies because of the credit issue. States will tax sports betting (some will do so with heavy taxes), private operators will want to make a profit, and the Sports Leagues have already demanded a cut. I think that the Sports Leagues and states are expecting a larger cut than will prove to be feasible.  With all of those takeouts, a bookie should be able to offer better odds.

The biggest issue about the size of the market is whether or not Sports Betting will be able to be offered online.  Most boosters say yes, but I don’t know why.  I believe that Sports Betting will, at least initially, be limited to bricks and mortar casinos.

Many people think that the famous December 23, 2011 “Christmas Surprise” ruling from the United Stated Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, authorized internet gambling, including Sports Betting.  Incorrect.  The OLC ruling was much more limited.  It was based on an acknowledged conflict between the prior interpretation of the Wire Act of 1961, and the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). The interpretation of the Wire Act had been that any type of Internet Gambling was illegal, but UIGEA specifically excluded Intrastate online gambling from penalties.  OLC issued the Christmas Surprise ruling announcing that their longtime previous interpretation of the Wire Act was incorrect, and that the Wire Act should only apply to Sports Betting, and that only Sports Betting is illegal over the internet.  Department of Justice Ruling December 2011 on Internet Gambling.  Let me include quotes from that opinion:

“We conclude that interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a “sporting event or contest,” 18 U.S.C. § 1084(a), fall outside of the reach of the Wire Act. Because the proposed New York and Illinois lottery proposals do not involve wagering on sporting events or contests, the Wire Act does not, in our view, prohibit them.”

“The Criminal Division’s conclusion that the New York and Illinois lottery proposals may be unlawful rests on the premise that the Wire Act prohibits interstate wire transmissions of gambling-related communications that do not involve “any sporting event or contest.” See Crim. Mem. at 3; Crim. Supp. Mem. at 2. As noted above, both Illinois and New York dispute this premise, contending that the Wire Act prohibits only transmissions concerning sports-related wagering… We conclude that the Criminal Division’s premise is incorrect and that the Wire Act prohibits only the transmission of communications related to bets or wagers on sporting events or contests.”

This provision contains two broad clauses. The first bars anyone engaged in the business of betting or wagering from knowingly using a wire communication facility “for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest.” Id. The second bars any such person from knowingly using a wire communication facility to transmit communications that entitle the recipient to “receive money or credit” either “as a result of bets or wagers” or “for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers.” Id.5”

“Reading the entire subsection, including its second clause, as limited to sports-related betting also makes functional sense of the statute. Cf. Corley v. United States, 129 S. Ct. 1558, 1567 n.5 (2009) (construing the statute as a whole to avoid “the absurd results of a literal reading”). On this reading, all of subsection 1084(a)’s prohibitions serve the same end, forbidding wagering, information, and winnings transmissions of the same scope: No person may send a wire communication that places a bet on a sporting event or entitles the sender to receive money or credit as a result of a sports-related bet, and no person may send a wire communication that shares information assisting in the placing of a sports-related bet or entitles the sender to money or credit for sharing information that assisted in the placing of a sports-related bet.”

Based on the DOJ opinion, a consensus has emerged among serious attorneys that the Wire Act prohibits interstate internet gambling, but permits intra-state internet gambling if authorized by the legislature of that state. It is not clear if interstate compacts are permitted.  Information on shared pari-mutuel pools through the internet, although apparently otherwise prohibited by the Wire Act, are expressly permitted through the later Interstate Horse Racing Act.

It currently appears to me that the clear wording of the Wire Act and the December 2011 DOJ memo both, at a minimum, continue to prohibit internet wagering on sports betting.  It is not clear to me at this time if even sports betting at local brick and mortar casinos in states that authorize sports betting would be permitted if that wagering is part of interstate pools.  Remember that the Wire Act prohibits not only wagering on sport events, but also prohibits “ information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers.”

Finally, the prospects are even worse in Florida.  Florida is unlikely to have an opportunity to have a Special Session of the Legislature prior to the elections.  There will be a referendum on the November ballot pertaining to voter control of gambling that may or may not impact sports betting.  It is also certainly possible that competition between the different gambling industries in Florida, and opposition from the same forces that are pushing the anti-gambling referendum (such as Disney) may result in an inability of Florida to pass any sports betting legislation.