Florida is the fourth largest grossing gambling state

Dec 4, 2012 3:00 AM

As the holidays approach, so does the legislative session scheduled to begin March 5 in Tallahassee. The annual two month wrangling and haggling process will surely involve in some way the expansion and regulation of state gambling – already a $1.5 billion industry.

Considering the explosion of gambling since past Gov. Laughton Chiles pronounced there would never be such expansion in his tenure (20 years ago) and subsequently echoed by Gov. Jeb Bush (10 years ago), the state is now a model for all manner of gaming run amuck. Florida is the fourth largest grossing gambling state in the nation.

Spotting this chaotic landscape, the big players on the international gaming scene are aiming to be the top of the Florida pyramid. It ranges from Indian tribal casinos with table games and slots, to racinos in South Florida with slots and poker, to one barrel racing, tribal affiliated casino near the Georgia border, to the penny ante money machines called Internet cafes all over the peninsula, and a very lucrative lottery.

Since the 60’s it has been rumored that the big resort hotels on Miami Beach are wired for casinos. For certain the gold coast is spot on for a massive infusion of casinos should new laws allow.

In a recent story for Tampa Bay On Line (TPO.com), writer Jerome R. Stockfish exposed a new PAC named New Jobs and Revenue for Florida. Its announced purpose is to construct a new state constitutional amendment on gambling.

Funded by Genting to the tune of $600,000 (to date), there’s minimal specific discussion of this PAC’s overall intention. It signals that Genting, with its huge footprint for a destination casino resort on the shores of Biscayne Bay will look to any and all strategies to be licensed. 

There’s good reason for Genting et al. to look at the constitutional amendment route, because it has already worked. The key to victory is a statewide vote. The advent of slot parlors (racinos) in Miami Dade and Broward County race tracks and frontons was approved by a statewide mandate in 2004 following years of haggling and State Supreme Court rulings.

The long time stubborn, conservative legislature and governor were bypassed. Fact: Gambling expanded.

The Genting PAC’s spokesman is an ex-high-level staffer for Gov. Rick Scott who has been largely noncommittal on gambling. He has signaled, however, that the state needs a regulatory body now. Since he ran on a “massive jobs increase across the state” platform (which hasn’t happened), gambling expansion is a bonanza for his re-election prospects.

With all the other race tracks and frontons in Florida badly wanting (and in many cases desperately needing) casino gambling, plus the expiration of existing compacts with the Seminole Indians, the issue of new revenue and jobs in a soft economy is part and parcel of any vote or legislative directive.

There is no other singular one-stop panacea to help bolster the state’s sagging coffers. Strange bedfellows like education and health interests are siding with the gaming initiative seeking the tax revenues to rescue their bare bones funding.

Ex-Democratic legislator and gambling supporter Dan Gelber in a major turnaround heads the No Casinos PAC. The group opposes any and all gambling expansion, including the Internet cafes and destination resort casinos. The well connected Walt Disney Company and its many central Florida subsidiaries are a vehement opponent…and have been forever.

New Senate President Don Gaetz recently set up a special committee to determine the future of gambling in Florida. The members have not been named yet. He said, “This development is in response to Florida having no gambling policy, rather a haphazard series of laws and agreements held together by baling wire, chewing gum, and bandaids.” 

Gaetz’s philosophy appears to be a stalling tactic until a report and recommendations are issued sometime next year. In the current economic client he may encounter tough headwinds both within the senate and the industry. Postponing a tax and job positive package will not sit well with many senators and congressmen coming up for reelection.

For years the legislature has ignored or downplayed all gambling issues. Many potential bills were allowed to expire at the last minute in a politically congested and contested climate. Even the few positive gaming bills that somehow passed were allowed to become law lacking the signature of the governor.

Bottom Line: The Seminoles, Genting PAC, other gambling conglomerates, the existing racinos and Internet cafe industries have all imported top lobbyists and lawyers to examine the best and most productive routes to victory. The money is flying. Something has to give. And soon.

Odds ’n Ends

The University of Miami’s self imposed a ban on a second consecutive bowl game for the 2012 team represents a pyrrhic victory. UM finally ascended to the top of the ACC – an accomplishment that has escaped it since the school joined the conference to much fanfare eight years ago.

Coach Al Golden accepted the fate with hopes it will ameliorate the punishments whenever the NCAA decides to rule (probably spring 2013). Unfortunately, the current team is responsible for the shenanigans dating back 10 years involving felony ponzi schemer named Shapiro.

Cleaning up the program and increasing graduation rates have not translated into a better win-loss record. Quite the contrary. Golden also loses the 30 additional days of December practice afforded a bowl bound team. The U is young and inexperienced. Those 30 days would have been valuable for the 2013 season.

Golden’s name has been mentioned in open coaching posts in the Big 12 and Big 10, however he did get a sweetened contract earlier this year from the U.

Baird Thompson and William Hutchinson bring a combined 80 years of gaming marketing and administration experience to Gaming Today. Contact them at [email protected].

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