The Seminole tribe as a political force remains undefeated
Two gambling goliaths have arrived in Florida intent on disrupting the state’s multi-billion dollar gambling industry. Only one obstacle stood in their way: the Seminole tribe of Florida. And over the course of eight months, the tribe proved to be a force no amount of money could conquer.
This is the story of the two most expensive campaign initiatives in U.S. history and how the Seminole tribe, along with their cadre of political advisers, navigated unprecedented terrain to stop them in their tracks. .
‘A big deal’
August 6, 2021 was a “big deal for the state of Florida,” the governor said. Ron DeSantis says when the federal government officially signed on the state’s new Gaming Compact with the Seminole Tribe. A few months ago, Chairman of the Seminole Tribe Marcellus Osceola Jr.Seminole Gaming CEO Jim AllenSeminole Tribe General Counsel Jim Shore and Will McKinley of Poole McKinley masterfully helped win broad bipartisan support from the legislature on a landmark gambling pact – a deal that would see the tribe operate sports betting in exchange for guaranteed state payouts, starting with $2,000,000. $5 billion in the first five years.
It was around this time that two other gambling giants, Draft Kings and Las Vegas Sands, saw an opening for expansion and sponsored gambling initiatives to feature on Florida’s 2022 election ballot. They immediately have sown their campaign coffers with $20 million and $17 million, respectively. The first order of business would be collecting the signatures needed to appear on the ballot and the decks for success seemed stacked in their favor even with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across the state.
The Seminole tribe, who migrated to Florida in the 1700s, were not going to give up defending their territory.
Political operation led by a small group of tribal loyalists
Rick Asnanithe founder and president of West Palm Beach-based Cornerstone Solutions, has a long history with the Seminole tribe dating back to the first Compact in 2009. Known for his data-driven precision, it would be Asnani whom Allen and the tribe would task to lead his opposition effort to protect its gambling empire from non-state entities.
Asnani would enlist familiar allies to aid in the operation. Adam Goodman, an award-winning media strategist and another Gaming Compact 2009 alumnus joined forces, as did McKinley and Gary Bitner, the tribe’s longtime spokesperson. Asnani has also recruited a new face from the tribe’s orbit in the Sarasota-based political operative. Max Bonman (Adam’s half-brother), Florida Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruter recently declared himself a “master in create chaos for opponents and throw them out of their game.”
This team would form the political core of the tribe.
Shocking Court Ruling and One-of-a-Kind Land and TV Assault Define the Holiday Season
It was a decision that sent shockwaves throughout Florida and the gaming world. In the middle of the night, three days before Thanksgiving, a federal district court judge in Washington DC struck down the Compact, ruling it violated India’s federal gaming law.
Perhaps this shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise given a few weeks before the judge in the case, Dabney Friedrichpublicly lambasted the federal government’s bumbling lawyer, saying, “I find it extremely hard to believe that the government doesn’t even know what its position is.”
With the new Compact and suspended sports betting, it was a break political committees representing outside interests were looking for to convince Floridians of the need for gambling expansion in the Sunshine State.
And then the ads hit. Again and again. From Miami to the Panhandle, television ads flooded the airwaves with a simple, memorable, and ultimately effective message: “Don’t sign the petitions.”
Whether watching “Dancing with the Stars” or “Monday Night Football,” Floridians were bombarded with tv spots featuring other Floridians of all different ages, genders and ethnicities delivering those four simple words straight to the camera. The aerial assault, combined with an equally impressive ground campaign, would prevent both ballot initiatives from gaining momentum after the Federal Court decision.
The Costliest Signature Collection Campaign in U.S. History
The two ballot initiatives alone have spent more trying to qualify for the ballot than any signature-raising effort in US history. While missing 77,000 signatures to hit the target, the Las Vegas Sands effort has not yet officially conceded even though a Leon County Court judge on Tuesday denied his latest attempt at a temporary injunction.
By essentially stifling both efforts before they could get started, the tribe saved between $150 million and $250 million fighting the proposals on the ballot this fall.
But an even more powerful message was delivered that will have a lasting effect for years to come: if you want to do business in Florida, you better check with the Seminole tribe first.
Otherwise, get ready to try your luck.