The Sunshine State is home to more than 21 million residents and attracts as many as 137 million visitors annually. Aside from enjoying the many natural beauties the state offers, many people enjoy local activities like gambling.
The state currently has more than 70 casinos, ranging from tiny gambling houses to sprawling complexes with a wide selection of games. What the state lacks, however, are casinos that offer more extravagant features like the live shows and concerts exemplified by major establishments in Las Vegas.
The absence of these types of casinos in Florida is not due to a lack of desire by operators but to state laws that prohibit their launch and keep the rights of casino operations firmly in the grasp of native entities such as the Seminole Tribe. There has been an ongoing battle to have these laws repealed and ruled unconstitutional in recent years, for changing this law would open the state to major operators and new casinos that could rival those in Vegas.
The fight to develop a Vegas-style casino in Florida dates back to at least 2009. Since then, large casino brands operating in Vegas and other major gambling locations have attempted to appeal the law to allow licenses to open new gambling establishments. Unfortunately, each of these attempts has fallen short of the desired result. One of the most prominent barriers has been cost, as any casino brand that has attempted to petition the courts to reconsider the laws has had to invest millions of dollars into its efforts.
Things became even more challenging in 2018 when an organization called Voters in Charge successfully petitioned a law change requiring any new casino development to be brought before the voting public. The amendment, which cost Voters in Charge $45 million, created even more red tape for companies looking to launch gambling services in the state.
Despite this, the Las Vegas Sands brand has been actively pursuing opening a Vegas-style casino in the region since 2009. Working alongside brands like MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts, Boyd Gaming Corporation, and Resorts World Genting Berhad, the company has sought permission to launch a casino in South Florida. Some of these brands, such as Genting, even secured land to the value of $236 million to begin developments (which it is currently selling) but once again hit a wall. After almost six years of fighting, the companies, including Las Vegas Sands, gave up the struggle in 2015.
A few years later, Las Vegas Sands began eyeing the northern part of the state. Valued at $36.08 billion, the brand was determined to succeed this time.
Operating through Voters in Charge, the Las Vegas Sands helped draft two amendments to the state’s constitution that would allow for the establishment of a casino. Specifically drafted not to infringe on the revenue-sharing agreement held with the Seminole Tribe, the amendments made provisions for establishing casinos that would help boost the local economy. Articles mentioned in the two drafts included the location of such casinos, ensuring that they would be a minimum distance from any already established Seminole casinos. Furthermore, minimum investment amounts of $250 to 500 million were outlined.
Aiming to bring the drafts before the local government by the final session of 2022, Voters in Charge worked hard to garner enough approval to pass the amendments. Their efforts included collecting at least 891,603 signatures from state residents in favor of a new casino. Ultimately, only 859,675 signatures could be verified by the submission deadline. Therefore, the attempt to publish the draft amendments was declined, and the entire fight appeared to have been lost.
However, Florida’s Voters in Charge, still backed by Las Vegas Sands, quickly appealed the ruling, claiming that the verification process used to confirm the signatures submitted had been ineffective. The verification of the signatures, which had been vehemently fought against by another organization, Stand Up for Florida Inc., was then investigated. Despite the appeal, the signatures were still found to be inadequate, which rendered the fight to get the petitions reviewed by the local government in the November 2022 sitting a failure.
With the petitions now apparently dead in the water, it is estimated that Las Vegas Sands has invested more than $73 million in legal fees. It was revealed that Standing Up for Florida Inc., which opposed these changes at every turn, was strongly supported by the Seminole Tribe, which aims to keep the casinos in the state under its control. The tribe is estimated to have contributed almost $40 million toward fighting the applications.
This fight between the two casino operators—both working through organizations—has led to an epic legal battle between two gambling behemoths. While the struggle is still ongoing, any hope that Las Vegas Sands could bring an exceptional Vegas-style casino to Florida seems to be waning.
And with Las Vegas Sands being the last major casino brand fighting for entry into Florida, any additional failures will further prove that the state is at the mercy of tribal casinos for the indefinite future.
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