No Casinos’ anti-gambling amendment cracks 100,000 signature mark

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The group behind a proposed constitutional amendment to give voters more control over gambling says it’s gotten 100,000 signatures toward getting on the 2018 ballot.

The Voters In Charge committee on Monday said it is sending its latest collected signature to county Supervisors of Elections so they can be validated. The committee is chaired by John Sowinski, who also heads the Orlando-based No Casinos anti-gambling expansion organization; the two are separate entities.

An amendment first needs 10 percent of the required total to get on the ballot — 683,149 — to qualify for legal review by the Florida Supreme Court. So far, it has reported 18,678 valid signatures, according to the state Division of Elections.

“When we launched this petition drive in October, we outlined a plan that called for hitting this goal of collecting enough signatures, that when validated, would result in the total needed for the Supreme Court to review the initiative, and we have achieved that goal,” Sowinski said in a statement.

The amendment is one part of what Sowinski has called a “three-pronged approach” to battle gambling expansion in Florida.

Another is fighting measures now pending in the 2016 Legislative Session, including the Seminole Compact, that he says are pro-expansion, and the third is supporting a lawsuit before the state Supreme Court on the question of allowing slot machines at certain racetracks.

“If the court returns a ruling that does not give authority over gambling expansion to the people of Florida, we will continue the initiative process and put this amendment on the 2018 ballot,” he said.

The amendment would “ensure that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in the state … by making citizens’ initiatives the exclusive method of authorizing casino gambling.”

The language makes clear, however, that there’s no intent to “limit the ability of the state or Native American tribes to negotiate gaming compacts (for) casino gambling on tribal lands, or to affect any existing gambling on tribal lands.”

It also says its provisions are “self-executing, and no Legislative implementation is required.”

“Our state’s history shows that you cannot expand gambling even a little in one place without it resulting in an explosion of gambling in another,” Sowinski said. “The people of Florida should have the ultimate say when it comes to deciding on gambling expansion, not gambling industry lawyers and lobbyists.”

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.