The following guest column appeared in the April 22, 2018 edition of the St. Augustine Record:
Guest column: Let voters roll the dice on gambling
by Joe Saviak, St. Augustine
Posted Apr 22, 2018 at 2:01 AM
“They’ll never see any of my money ever again. Why bother?”
This threat, from an unidentified pari-mutuel owner, quoted in a story on FloridaPolitics.com, was directed at state lawmakers. If they didn’t expand casino gambling, there would be no more gambling money for their campaigns.
It was last minute desperation that set in as the legislative session wound down this month.
This is how the gambling industry approaches democracy in our state capital. They give the politicians money and in return expect permission to build more and bigger casinos.
One at least has to admire the honesty.
The Voters in Charge initiative, which will appear on the ballot as Amendment 3, addresses this moneyed approach to politics. It takes the corrupting influence of gambling dollars out of politics by taking gambling decisions away from the politicians.
Instead, decisions to expand casino gambling in Florida would be returned to voters. For more than 35 years, this is how the process worked, resulting in several gambling initiatives appearing on statewide ballots in 1978, 1986, 1994 and 2004 as well as the amendment which created the Florida Lottery in 1986. Two of these ballot measures were successful, while three were rejected.
Some murky case law gave politicians the idea that they could take control of gambling decisions beginning around 2011. Ever since, casino money from far away locales such as Las Vegas and Malaysia has poured into the state capital in an effort to persuade legislators to approve more casino gambling in Florida.
This has diverted attention from more pressing issues confronting our state and bogged down lawmakers in never-ending legislative battles over gambling.
Locally we have seen a resurgence of so-called “internet cafés,” which should really be called the “strip mall casinos.” These facilities are a blight on our family-friendly community, with a history of driving away other local businesses and being a magnet for crime and other ills.
Amendment 3 seeks to put Florida voters, not Tallahassee politicians and those that seek to curry their favor, in charge of casino gambling. When Amendment 3 passes, these decisions about casino gambling expansion will be removed from proverbial smoke-filled back rooms and returned to voters in a public forum. It also gives voters more control over closing loopholes that allow these strip mall casinos to invade our communities.
Whether you approve of more casino gambling in our state, or whether you don’t, it’s hard to like the current system in which gambling lobbyists have so much influence over the political process in Tallahassee.
Amendment 3 simply creates an open and democratic process for decisions that can have a profound impact on the state’s future.
That the gambling industry and their lobbyists so desperately tried to push gambling expansion through at the end of this year’s legislative session demonstrates how much it fears such a process.
This is exactly why we need Amendment 3.