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Las Vegas Sands ends effort to put casino expansion on Florida ballot

Florida Voters in Charge, the nonprofit political action committee funded by Las Vegas Sands Corp. to gather signatures on petitions supporting the legalization of commercial gambling in northern Florida, has abandoned its efforts to put the question on the November ballot.

The organization also dropped an appeals court lawsuit it filed when Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper rejected a request to extend the petition deadline.

“The Florida Voters in Charge Committee, formed to bring casino gaming and its accompanying economic development benefits to the north Florida region, has begun the process of winding down the committee and its efforts for the 2022 election cycle,” Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman of Florida Voters in Charge, said in a statement released Friday.

“While the committee believes that it submitted more than the required number of voter signatures to make the 2022 ballot, the various obstacles the committee would have to overcome in order to vindicate those voters and make the ballot — the most recent of which is the passage of a law calling into question the availability of Supreme Court review of the ballot language — makes achievement of that goal untenable. The committee would like to thank the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who supported its mission.”

The shutdown occurred before the most expensive part of the campaign arrived — spending advertising dollars to convince voters to approve the gaming expansion.

The withdrawal effectively cements the status of the Seminole Indian Tribe as the sole provider of casino gambling in Florida through its tribal casinos. The Seminole Tribe owns the Hard Rock Hotel franchise worldwide and will join the Las Vegas Strip neighborhood when it bought The Mirage from MGM Resorts International for $1.075 billion in December.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. spent $73 million in support of the signature-gathering process while the Seminole Tribe spent $40 million to oppose it.

Representatives of Sands, which wants to develop integrated resorts that include hotel rooms, restaurants, convention facilities and entertainment venues in addition to casinos, were unclear about the company’s future plans in Florida. A spokesman for the company said Tuesday that leaders are undecided about what happens next.

Bascom also did not say whether the committee plans to revive the effort for 2024.

“I think it’s in early innings,” Sands CEO Rob Goldstein said in a March interview with the Review-Journal. “We will be in Florida, in my opinion. It’s just a question of when it happens.”

Gaming industry analyst Brenden Bussmann, founder of Las Vegas-based B Global, said he expects the effort will continue.

“Florida is going to continue to become a conundrum on how gaming expansion may or may not occur there,” Bussmann said Tuesday. “Obviously, Sands tries to do it from the land-based perspective and a series of operators tried to do it from a sports-betting perspective. Both would be good market opportunities along the way for any gaming operator. The challenge remains that when Amendment 3 passed in 2018, requiring a local vote to approve gambling, it gives the Seminoles an opportunity to block.”

Bussmann said he believes the effort will be renewed because there are gaming dollars left on the table in Florida.

“While Sands was focused on the northern Florida market, there are opportunities across that state for gaming expansion that provide tax dollars for the state for education and other programs,” he said.

The Review-Journal is owned by the Adelson family, including Dr. Miriam Adelson, majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp., and Las Vegas Sands President and COO Patrick Dumont.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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