by Lone Shark
There are few issues that so perfectly divide the general public and countless constituency groups along atypical political fault lines more so than does the issue of gaming and gambling. The disparate groups opposed to a gaming expansion have different reasons for doing so- some groups base their opposition on moral grounds, other groups simply don’t want their existing revenue streams challenged or want to maintain their virtual monopoly on a particular type of gaming.
Among those groups that are opposed to expansion of gambling, you have the faith-based groups led by John Stemberger, including the Florida Catholic Conference, Florida Baptist Convention, Florida Family Policy Council and Florida Casino Watch. On the business end of the opposition to expanded gaming, you have the the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Disney Corporation, and the sovereign Indian tribes, the Seminoles and Miccosukee who are also opposed to expanded gaming in Florida for the obvious reason that any new “destination casino” that would feature luxury hotels, retail stores, nightlife, restaurants, and casino gambling would cut right into their bottom lines. The Seminole Tribe is also claiming that any expansion of gambling in the state violates the terms of their revenue-sharing compact.
Last week, famed resort & casino developer Steve Wynn inserted himself into the gambling debate with some pretty unequivocal praise for a future destination resort & casino in South Florida:
“I think that Miami Beach is the greatest site for a destination resort in the United States.” – Steve Wynn
With billions of dollars in play for resort-casino investment, tens of thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars in additional tax revenue just waiting to be realized, it’s hard to say that a limited expansion of gambling in Florida done with proper oversight wouldn’t be a productive step forward for Florida’s economy. Thus far, Governor Rick Scott has remained neutral on the matter and has chosen his statements on the issue carefully, choosing not to offend anyone on either side of the issue. He’s indicated that he does not want Florida’s economy to over-rely on gambling as a source of revenue and stated that he is sensitive to the concerns raised by those who believe that gambling has harmful societal consequences while maintaining his openness to the possibility of expanded resort-casino development.
A gaming & casino bill is set to be introduced when the next legislative session begins in January, the bill is sponsored by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale and Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, but the same measure is also opposed by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview. There exists a clear divide within the Republican legislative caucus, and it could mean that obtaining the support of Democrats in the legislature may be crucial for advocates on either side of the issue. While it’s assumed that the gaming industry and its lobbyists will put a full-court press on all state legislators, this battle figures to be a very complicated fight that could very well lead to legislative deadlock or even outright defeat for the pro-gaming side.
Former Governor Jeb Bush was opposed to a gaming expansion in Florida throughout his two terms, but he senses that the political winds for gambling may be changing even as a geographical divide exists:
“The north will let the heathens in the south have the casinos, and they’ll take the benefits.” Former Governor Jeb Bush
You have to appreciate Jeb’s humor in this instance- Lord knows that it’s only the heathens in the southern part of the state who frequent popular casino resorts like the Seminole Hard Rock Casino- the good folks up north and along the panhandle, people we know and respect very much- would never in a million years consider stepping foot inside the numerous gaming resort casinos located in Mississippi or Louisiana.
For better or worse, Florida is already a gaming state- virtually any kind of gambling or gaming can be found within the state or along its shores, whether it’s under the auspices of the state government (lotteries) the Indian Tribes (existing resort casinos) or private companies that own and operate slot machines and casino cruises. Why wouldn’t some additional, but limited competition that pressures the Indian Tribes to run more efficient and safer operations- with perhaps some looser slots- be beneficial Florida’s economy?
The Malaysia-based Genting Group’s proposal to build “Resorts World Miami” for an estimated $3 billion dollars is a lot of development to leave on the table- it will be interesting to say the least to see how this issue plays out in the coming weeks and months.