Given an inch, they will take slots

February 8, 2017
By Paul Seago, Executive Director of No Casinos

Monday’s editorial regarding decoupling at Florida’s parimutuels urges a “clean” bill on this subject, free from “unwanted baggage” that would expand gambling. A “clean” gambling bill in Tallahassee is something of myth and legend – like Bigfoot or a unicorn. People claim it’s real and possible, but there is little evidence. Many things hailed as “reforms” when it comes to gambling are held hostage by those seeking to expand gambling in order to argue there is somehow a reduction.

Throughout Florida history, every limited and seemingly simple decision related to gambling leads to more gambling then originally intended. It is a phenomenon we call “gambling creep” (and is the subject of a video we have posted on our website, www.NoCasinos.org).

This gambling creep is most on display when one looks at Florida’s parimutuels industry. Since horse and greyhound racing and jai alai were legalized in Florida in the 1930s, parimutuel owners have engaged in an almost ceaseless yearly pilgrimage to the state capital to beg, cajole and lobby for more and more gambling with the same mantra, “Give us more gambling so we can compete.”

Over the years, the Florida Legislature has gifted parimutuels simulcast wagering, poker rooms, higher poker-hand limits, and no-limit poker – without a vote of Floridians and without competitive bids. Now parimutuels have their sights set on slot machines, essentially making each one a casino. Recall that Florida voters rejected the idea of turning every parimutuel in the state into a casino in 1994, in a 2-to-1 vote. That didn’t stop them continuing to ask lawmakers for more gambling, finally receiving card rooms in 1996.

At first their arguments were that people loved racing and jai alai – but they needed new forms of gambling to enhance prize purses, so they could continue to offer their races and live performances. Now they argue no one wants to watch racing and live jai alai, so they need more gambling to continue to exist and they no longer want to offer races and live events.

We take exception to parimutuel owners feeling that their license gives them a birthright to whatever forms of gambling become fashionable over time.

If the free market had been allowed to have its say, the way it has for other industries like travel agents, video-rental stores and TV repair stores, many of these parimutuels – especially greyhound racetracks – would have gone the way of the dodo.

If parimutuels no longer wish to do the only thing the Florida Constitution authorizes them to do, they should turn in their licenses and find another purpose for their land. Instead, the Legislature has given each of these license-holders the idea that their permit is a Willy Wonka-style “golden ticket” that will one day transform their ancient track or fronton into a Las Vegas-style casino.

That is not following the free market, or the wishes of Florida voters. It’s giving into crony capitalists looking for another round of corporate welfare.

Paul Seago is executive director of No Casinos.

To read the column on the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s website, click here

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