Arkansas Voters Sign Off on Issue 4, Sports Betting on Horizon?

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On Tuesday, legalized sports gambling and daily fantasy sports won approval in select areas in Arkansas and Louisiana, and in Florida the power to expand the industry was stripped from the state Legislature and put in the hands of voters.

Florida’s Amendment 3, which gives state residents the power to expand gambling, won support with 70% of the vote. The initiative, taking 760,000 signatures to get it on the ballot, came about after state legislators failed in recent years to agree on various gambling measures, notably stalling in the House, which is more gambling shy than the Senate.

The ballot initiative was proposed by Voters in Charge, a political committee, significantly financially supported by the Seminole Tribe and the Walt Disney Co. The vote does not affect casinos on Indian reservations in Tampa and Fort Lauderdale.

The political action committee spent more than $30 million in support of Amendment 3, with the expressed goal to slow expansion of gambling in the state.

Two opposition political action committees, Citizens for the Truth and Vote NO on 3, raised nearly $7 million to fight the measure. Among its backers, the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, St. Petersburg Kennel Club, Cardroom Tech and Elevated LLC of Los Angeles.

Online sports betting sites DraftKings and FanDuel also lobbied against the amendment. Some opposing said Disney and the Seminole Tribe did not want competition for tourist money, which drives the Florida economy. Florida, ranking fourth in U.S. population, has long been “the get” for the gambling industry due to its large number of retirees, many with cash and time to burn.

In May, the U.S. Supreme ruled on a New Jersey lawsuit that essentially overturned the ban on sports betting. Since then several states, including New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Mississippi and New Mexico, have full-scale legal sports betting. Pennsylvania, New York and Rhode Island have passed legislation are poised to begin betting, possibly by the end of the year or early in 2019. As many as 15 other states are considering sports betting measures.

Florida has not seized on the high court ruling, despite proposals for “destination resorts” that would include retail, lodging and legal sports betting. With Amendment 3 passing, gambling interests will likely have to wait longer and work harder to make inroads into the state.

In other Tuesday election results on gambling measures:

  • In Arkansas, voters approved legalizing casino gambling in Pope and Jefferson counties, plus at a dog track West Memphis, Ark. and a horse track in Hot Springs. More than $4 million was spent in support of the measure by the Cherokee and Quapaw Tribes.
  • In Louisiana, a measure asking each state parish, 64 of them, to approve or ditch fantasy sports games was OK’d in the New Orleans, Lafayette and Baton Rouge areas.

Voters supported the measure in East Baton Rouge, Orleans, Jefferson, St. Charles, St. Tammany, St. Bernard and Lafayette parishes. Also, West Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston parishes.

Games can only be played legally in parishes where the ballot initiative passed.

A campaign in support of the effort was heavily funded by FanDuel and DraftKings, the two leaders in the sports fantasy industry.

"Tonight's results are a major step forward for the tens of thousands of sports fans in Louisiana who want to play fantasy sports like fans in 41 other states," Ryan Berni, chairman of Fairness for Fantasy Sports Louisiana political action committee, tweeted on Tuesday night. “Over 90% of LA residents will be able to play next year based on parish by parish results.”

The Louisiana state legislature will have to write and approve regulations and taxation its 2019 session before the games can begin. The legislative session starts April 8.

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