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Pro-casino groups denied immediate relief in petition gathering suit

In this Feb. 22, 2019 photo, gambling chips stacked on a table at the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City N.J. Commercial casinos in 25 U.S. states won $43.6 billion from gamblers in 2019, an increase of nearly 4% from the previous year, according to a report issued late Wednesday, June 3, 2020, by The American Gaming Association, the casino industrys national trade group. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry) (Wayne Parry, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

TALLAHASSEE – A judge in the state capital could decide as early as Friday whether companies with links to the Seminole Tribe have been interfering with petition gathering efforts to allow new casinos in Florida.

Florida Voters in Charge claims the companies are trying to keep the casino measure from making the 2022 ballot.

Florida Voters in Charge had just over 205,000 verified signatures on Monday.

On Wednesday, the number was up to more than 228,000, but it’s still a long way from the 891,000 needed by the end of the month.

A lawsuit filed last week alleges a handful of companies with ties to the Seminole Tribe are engaging in illegal activity by interfering with the people they hired to gather signatures.

“There is an emergency here,” said Jim McKee, an attorney representing Florida Voters in Charge.

They got to make their first arguments before a judge.

“People are being poached,” said McKee. “People are being paid off to leave the state. For what purpose? For the sole purpose of trying to not have the requisite number of signatures obtained between now and December 30th. We’re only 22 days away.”

The pro-casino group asked the judge to immediately order the anti-casino groups to stop interfering with its petition gathering activities.

“I deny that request at this point,” said Circuit Court Judge Angela Dempsey.

Those being sued asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

“Fundamentally judge, they are seeking to silence. They’re seeking to silence the number of voices that speak against them with vague allegations,” said attorney William Shepherd.

Instead, the judge scheduled a hearing for Friday afternoon on the motion to dismiss.

If the suit survives, a hearing on the merits is set for next Tuesday.

The effort by the anti-casino groups is called blocking, and insiders tell us they have never seen such a fierce effort to keep an amendment off the ballot.


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