Disney and Seminole tribe score big win in Florida on Election Day as voters approve anti-casino amendment

Key Points
  • The midterm election produced a big win for Disney and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which owns the Hard Rock brand.
  • The two spent $20 million and $24 million, respectively, to support an amendment on the Florida ballot that would make it harder for gaming companies to build new casinos in the Sunshine State.
  • Voters also approved other gambling measures around the country.
Fireworks explode over Cinderella Castle during the Happily Ever After fireworks show at the Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom entertainment park on October 10, 2018 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Gary Hershorn | Corbis News | Getty Images

The midterm election produced a big win for Disney and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which owns the Hard Rock brand. According to Ballotopedia, Disney spent more than $20 million and the Seminole tribe spent more than $24 million to support Amendment 3 on the Florida ballot, known as the anti-casinos initiative.

The amendment makes it much harder for a gaming company to build a new casino in Florida. Lobbyists and legislators wouldn't have a say. Casinos could only be approved by a statewide ballot — which would mean voters in Pensacola would have a voice over whether a casino gets built in Miami.

Why were Disney and Hard Rock so vested in this measure? It staves off competition. For Hard Rock that competition would be for gambling dollars, since this amendment doesn't apply to casino gambling on Native American tribal lands. And for Disney, it means less competition for tourism dollars, and Disney has a vested interest in presenting Florida as a family-friendly vacation destination.

The Miami Dolphins opposed the measure and urged fans on Twitter to vote against it. The NFL team argued the amendment will block the possibility of legalizing sports betting in Florida. That's not clear; the amendment applies to card games, casino games and slot machines. But in other states — where sports gambling is now legal — a casino toehold is a first step to a sports book.

The Florida legislature has not moved forward with various gambling initiatives in recent years. If gaming opportunities are to expand significantly in Florida, it will be because Florida voters prove they have more gumption for gambling than lawmakers.

Florida voters also passed an amendment to ban betting on dog races, a measure spearheaded by animal rights activists.

Meanwhile, a dog track will be the big beneficiary of a new casino license in Arkansas. Voters in that state passed a measure to award casino licenses in four separate counties. Two will go to existing facilities, Southland Racing Corporation in Crittenden County, a greyhound track, and Oaklawn Jockey Club in Garland County, a horse track.

But that leaves two openings for other applicants to win casino licenses, in Jefferson County within two miles of Pine Bluff and in Pope County within two miles of Russellville. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson opposed the measure and maintains his negative outlook but has said he will respect the will of the voters.

In Maryland, casino revenue coming in from the state's six casinos is forecast to reach half a billion dollars by 2022. That money has long been promised for school funding. But voters approved a "casino lockbox" measure on Election Day that carries with it a requirement to use those gambling tax revenues on top of current minimum funding requirements. Previously, the state used the casino revenues to meet existing funding requirements.

Idaho rejected a measure that would allow instant horse racing video terminals. Gov. Butch Otter had supported the measure, hoping to prop up Idaho's "diminished horse racing industry." But opponents prevailed, arguing it essentially legalized gambling off-reservation.

In Missouri, voters narrowly passed a measure to boost bingo in the state by easing restrictions on who can run the games. The state has legalized bingo run by nonprofits, veterans groups and the like, but insisted a person had to be a member of a sponsor group for two years to run the games.

This measure reduces the required membership to six months. The Missouri Gaming Commission says charitable bingo games have added $100 million in tax revenue to the state's education fund since the game was legally allowed in 1980.