Should Florida become a Vegas-style Casino State?

by Reggie Fullwood

What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are,” said the great writer C. S. Lewis.

That pretty much sums up the issue of the expansion of gambling in the state of Florida. It is a matter of perspective, and it is one of the biggest decisions the state legislature and Governor will have to make in the near future.

Over the past three years, legislators in Tallahassee have been lobbied on the pros and cons of Florida becoming a destination casino state.
With big Vegas-style casinos come a lot of potential state revenue from gambling, hotels, rental cars, restaurants, etc. Think about the number of corporate and industry conferences that go to Vegas; Florida already hosts a lot of conferences, but that number could drastically increase.

Most would agree that Florida has a much better climate and is a far more appealing place to visit than Nevada. Thus, the potential to generate new state revenues is pretty big.

Obviously, there are folks on the other side that have strong opinions against big casino gambling coming to the state.

The big mouse in the room, based in Orlando, probably gets more or just as much convention business as Las Vegas. Although the big casinos developers have targeted south Florida as the location to build these large hotel, conference, casino facilities, it could also affect businesses in Orlando.
The fact that vacationers or convention planners could choose south Florida over Orlando makes companies like Disney and Universal key players in this debate.

One of the biggest concerns that I have heard is the cultural issue. Nationally, Florida is viewed as a family fundestination. Would big casinos have a negative impact on the state’s “image?”

Of course, proponents say no – casinos will not have an impact on Florida’s family friendly reputation primarily because the casinos will be focused in south Florida. Miami is already seen as an adult vacation destination. I certainly wouldn’t take my kids on a vacation on South Beach, so that argument does have some merit.

Let me back up for a moment. Most are already aware that the state currently allows gambling in many ways – Florida Lottery, race tracks, poker rooms, jai alai frontons, racinos, and the seven or so casinos of the Seminole tribe.

Speaking of the Seminole tribe, it probably does not surprise anyone that the Seminoles who run casinos in the state don’t support the expansion of casinos. Essentially, Vegas-style casinos would hurt the Seminole monopoly on the Florida market.

Both sides are spending millions of dollars to influence both the legislature and the governor’s office.

For example, Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, and the Seminole tribe both donated $250,000 to Governor Rick Scott’s campaign coffers.

And I am not saying that the money flowing in from both sides will ultimately decide how a particular politicianvotes, but campaign contributions do typically generate access and special consideration of an issue. Just keeping it real!

So where are everyday people in this big debate? A recent poll paid for by the Las Vegas Sands suggests a large majority of Floridians would support a casino expansion in Florida.

The poll, conducted by Terrance Group, found that 57 percent of Florida voters approved allowing gaming in Florida as a revenue generator for the state, while 35 percent disapproved. Of course, opponents point out their own poll done last year, which told a much different story.

A 2012 Mason-Dixon survey found that Florida voters were narrowly divided, 42 percent to 44 percent, over destination casinos and preferred a statewide vote.

The Florida Legislature hired a company to study the economic effects and social costs of expanded gambling in Florida. The Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey-based research firm wrapped up their study last year and presented the data to the legislature.

A representative from the company told a Senate Gaming Committee that “the expansion of casino gambling, whether on a small scale or very large scale, would have, at best, a moderately positive impact on the state economy.”

A moderately positive impact?  Well, I guess time will tell the direction the state ultimately moves on this issue, but the success or failure of gambling expansion in Floridamaybe one to be studied in political science courses on college campuses for years to come. With big guns and almost unlimited money on both sides of the issue – who wins out?

Signing off from Tallahassee,

Reggie Fullwood

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