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Las Vegas Sands Corp Funds Political Group As Part Of Plot To Build New Florida Casino In Jacksonville

The Company Gave The Group $17 Million To Help Fund A Statewide Efforts To Get Gambling-Related Constitutional Amendments On The Ballot

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For the last seven or eight months, Las Vegas Sands Corp. spent most of its efforts pushing for gambling expansion and legalization in Texas, with hopes of getting a Las Vegas-style casino in Dallas.

Those efforts ultimately failed during the last legislative session and it appears the company is shifting its focus to the Sunshine State. According to a report from Florida Politics, the company is using its resources to build a casino in Jacksonville.

Earlier this week, the company spent $17 million on funding a political committee, Florida Voters in Charge, that would back an amendment to the state constitution which could help the company get a property in the city.

It’s a slightly different method than the route it took to try and exert its influence in the Lone Star State. Last November, then-Chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Sheldon Adelson hired eight lobbyists to try and sway Texas lawmakers during the 2021 legislative session.

From a legislative perspective, the gambling market in Florida has been one of the most active in the recent months. Gov. Ron DeSantis struck a deal with the Seminole Tribe that would create a new gaming compact between the state and the tribe. It would allow for both online and retail sports betting, as well as the addition of games like craps and roulette at Seminole-owned properties. It will generate at least $2.5 billion in new revenue for the state government over the next five years.

That agreement is already facing legal scrutiny as a pair of pari-mutuel facilities filed a federal lawsuit over the agreement.

A spokesperson with the company said that Las Vegas Sands had no intention of violating the agreement, however. Instead, it will use an amendment passed in 2018 to help create a landscape that would allow them to build a casino resort legally.

Nearly three years ago, voters passed an amendment that required a statewide ballot initiative for any sort of gambling expansion. The amendment was heavily supported by the Seminole Tribe as in the several years before the amendment passed, there were multiple bills that were trying to allow other companies to build destination hotel casinos in the state.

Florida Voters in Charge will use the $17 million from Las Vegas Sands to fund a statewide petition gathering effort to get at least one of two amendments on the ballot.

One of those would allow up to three existing licensed cardrooms to offer a full slate of gaming options as long as the property is at least 130 miles away from Seminole land and do not spend more than $250 million on development costs.

The other amendment is slightly broader as it would allow for three new casinos in Florida, as long as it is 100 miles away from tribal property.

But both of these proposals make Jacksonville the likely landing spot for a new casino. The city is large enough to garner a customer base that would make such a large project feasible and it is far enough away from the Seminole properties in Tampa, South Florida, and Southwest Florida to fit the geographical restrictions laid out.

Last March, Las Vegas Sands sold its two Las Vegas Strip casinos, Venetian and Palazzo, leaving it without a single America-based casino. It has since been searching for new markets to build in, but have yet to be successful.

In Texas, the company was unsuccessful in swaying some of the politicians with a much stronger anti-gambling viewpoint. And since the bills circulating through the legislature were centered around a constitutional amendment, it required a two-thirds majority to pass.

But its strategy in Florida is a more viable option. If the committee it funded is able to get the required amount of signatures to get on the ballot, the company can run targeted ad campaigns like it did in Texas to help sway public opinion, as opposed to a group of politicians.

Gary Bitner, a spokesman for Seminole Gaming told Florida Politics in a statement that the tribe would oppose any action taken towards a new casino.

“This is millions of out-of-state corporate dollars to try and manipulate the people of Florida, who are smarter than that. They think they can buy their way into the state. Our team intends to use our Florida dollars to protect the interests of the people of Florida,” said Bitner.