In 2004, a coalition of national gaming enterprises that included Churchill Downs Incorporated, Isle of Capri Casinos, Magna Entertainment, along with several local pari-mutuel facilities undertook the daunting task of amending the Florida Constitution to legalize slot machines.
Florida’s anti-gaming hostility had consistently proven to be an insurmountable obstacle to any expansion of gaming activities in the state. In the recent past, Florida voters had soundly rejected ballot measures to expand gaming on three consecutive occasions. In the face of that deep-seated opposition, passing a constitutional amendment that would allow slot machines was widely thought to be impossible.
In addition to the widespread disdain for gambling fostered by the general public, we faced several formidable political opponents. Jeb Bush, the hugely popular incumbent governor, was almost fanatical in his opposition to gaming. The governor was highly visible throughout the campaign. He was the principle spokesman for his brother’s presidential re-election campaign in Florida and as he crisscrossed the state he never missed a chance to spread his anti-gaming message and specifically attacked the amendment.
The press was uniformly against the measure. We were routinely bombarded with scathing editorials antagonistic new stories. This relentless media animosity was being stoked by a coalition of the Christian right and conservative public officials. All efforts were lavishly funded by the deep pockets of the Seminole and Miccosukee Indian tribes who were fighting to preserve their monopoly on casino gaming.