John Sowinski: Finally, a sensible gambling plan for Florida’s future - Florida Politics

John Sowinski: Finally, a sensible gambling plan for Florida’s future

There are two things we can count on in Florida. In any given body of water, eventually the alligators will show up. And in any given meeting of the Florida Legislature, the same applies to gambling lobbyists.

Feed either and they only become more insatiable.

With regard to the gambling interests, unfortunately, the Florida Senate is setting up a buffet of glutinous proportions. Proposed legislation calls for the biggest expansion of gambling in Florida’s history.

It literally would recreate our state in Nevada’s image, with casinos popping up in communities from the far reaches of the Panhandle to the end of the Everglades.

There would be two new Las Vegas-style casinos in Broward and Miami-Dade, a region already suffering from a glut of casinos. There would be a massive increase in gambling supply there, without a corresponding increase in gamblers, creating a dynamic in which the casinos could only survive by cannibalizing each other’s customers. Even the gambling industry’s own financial experts predict that 95 percent of the patrons would be locals, not tourists.

This type of gambling over-saturation is what brought the industry crashing down in Atlantic City, but not before it eviscerated existing local jobs and businesses from restaurants to retail stores.

But the Senate bill does not stop with more gambling in South Florida. Initially, casinos would spread to eight other counties. That only would be for starters because under Senate Bill 8, every horse track, dog track or jai alai fronton could become a casino.

Getting back to the alligator analogy, what the Senate is proposing is akin to taking 500 bags of marshmallows out into the middle of Lake Okeechobee at midnight and tossing them in the water.

Even worse, the regulators now have allowed banked games in pari-mutuel card rooms despite state law that bans them, a clear violation of Florida’s gambling agreement with the Seminoles that has embroiled the state in expensive litigation and halted the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars of tribal payments to the state. The Senate bill addresses this in the usual Tallahassee manner — rather than shutting down this illegal gambling, it legalizes it.

For years, lawmakers have talked about comprehensive legislation that would establish a permanent framework for the future of gambling in Florida. The Senate bill makes Florida’s future look like Atlantic City’s current train wreck.

Understanding this, leaders in the Florida House have taken a different tack. They have put forth a bill that fixes weaknesses in existing gambling law, closes loopholes that gambling lawyers continually exploit, stops the proliferation of slot machines throughout Florida, honors Florida’s constitutional restrictions on gambling, and respects the will of the people of Florida, who have consistently rejected statewide expansions of gambling. Finally, it provides for an agreement with the Seminole tribe that would achieve the stated intent of the original Seminole compact — holding the line on gambling and creating a firewall to stop the spread of casinos throughout Florida.

There are many reasons to oppose the expansion of gambling in Florida. The legislature’s own economists have repeatedly said in presentations that, “some or all of the jobs, wages and tax revenues attributed to gambling enterprises may be simply transferred from elsewhere.” This means that money spent in a casino merely cannibalizes existing jobs and businesses.  It puts our multibillion-dollar family-friendly tourism brand at risk, and it spreads addiction and dependency that destroys lives and families, at a huge cost to society and taxpayers.

For Florida Legislators, the choice is clear. They can either keep feeding the alligators by going with the Senate plan, or follow the lead of the Florida House bill by advancing a sensible strategy to control the spread of gambling in our state.

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John Sowinski is president of NoCasinos.

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5 Comments

  1. Mr. Sowinski is paid to oppose gaming, on behalf of a group that believes that the family image of Florida will be damaged by casino and other forms of gaming. Florida is a very large State, and in nearly every community the number of adult visitors far exceed those of children and persons under age 21. And a large percentage of adult visitors approve of casino gaming for the slot machines and table games, plus the other forms of entertainment provided. For Florida residents the benefits, whether you gamble or not; are jobs, taxes, construction and even more tourism.
    Obviously the Senate’s plan is overly ambitious, especially with $billions of revenue sharing at risk from the Seminole Tribal compact. But rather than approving slot machines at dog tracks, that no longer have an audience, except for the slots, poker and pari-mutual betting on horses. And without a racing requirement, these Greyhound tracks could most likely prosper with poker, betting on horse races and the real estate profit from selling the land under the track. And if the Miami-Dade and Broward dog tracks are allowed to keep their slots, at least raise the tax back to the original 50% rate or even higher.
    And rather than add slots to dog tracks elsewhere in the State, why not place some slots in larger tourist hotels, in markets that would not compete with existing Seminole casinos. This would switch the balance of gaming players from residents to tourists.
    The horse tracks are still an important part of the Florida tourism package, and should be allowed to keep their slots, although some of the slot tax revenue should be used to subsidize Tampa Bay Downs, that can’t have slot machines, with the Seminole Hard Rock nearby.
    And as for the Seminole compact, the FL House should ease their position and let the Tribe offer Craps and Roulette, at least at their 3 largest casinos; which could earn the State a very healthy revenue sharing agreement. But of more importance, is by adding the missing games; FL casinos would be able to compete, on equal footing, with resort casinos in Biloxi, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and many other Caribbean and Central American destinations.
    John Sowinski’s comparison of Florida to Atlantic City, is completely outrageous. The great majority of Florida resort destinations, have no competition within easy driving distance, and FL resorts North of Tampa, could be restricted to a single slot room in a limited number of large resort hotels; where Atlantic City had a dozen full casinos, and was faced with multiple new casinos, some within 60 miles, that intercepted players from AC’s largest markets, Philadelphia, NY City, Maryland and North/central New Jersey. And Florida has a 12 month season, where the AC beach and shore are only summer attractions.
    Florida’s tourists primarily arrive by plane, and stay a week or less; unlike the winter season resident; but both are potential customers of casinos and slot parlors. And individuals of both groups will respond positively to the inclusion of casinos and slot rooms in the State of Florida.

    1. The Senators pushing the expanded gambling legislation (Senate bill 008) are paid by the gaming industry through their political action committees (PACs). Senator Bill Galvano is the new president of the National Council of Legislators From Gaming States (NCLGS). Note that Spectrum Gaming is the “Producer and Organizer” of the NCLGS. Note that “In 2013 – Spectrum Gaming Group released a report, commissioned by the Florida Legislature at a cost of $388,000 to assess the state’s gambling market.” (From No Casinos – History of gambling in Florida).

      1. Clarification: Only the last quotation (last sentence) is from No Casinos. The remaining observations are mine alone.

  2. Just approve the two casinos in Miami. Florida is already a gambling state. Denial is not a river in Egypt. There’s no need to expand gambling / slot machines and table games to every dog and horse track in the state. Just because people aren’t betting on the dogs anymore doesn’t automatically entitle the dog track owners to new forms of gambling. Nobody guaranteed the Yellow Pages a monopoly on advertising when smartphones made their books an automatic toss into the recycling bin.
    Today, the vote to approve slots in Miami-Dade and Broward would have failed because it didn’t get 60%. Money spent gambling, unlike money spent at restaurants, don’t have a multiplier effect on the local economy. It’s just sucked out and benefits few. A couple of destination casinos in Miami will keep gamblers spending money in Florida instead of traveling to Biloxi or the Bahamas. It would probably hurt Vegas as they can’t compete with our beaches and proximity to South America.

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