Editorial: Selling Florida’s Soul

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Published: March 8, 2015

Don’t believe the spin that a massive Florida House gambling bill represents a “contraction” in gaming.

Hillsborough Rep. Dana Young’s proposal would ignite an explosion of gambling, forever changing and tarnishing Florida.

It would put a state with a family-friendly brand that appeals to tourists and business alike on the path to becoming another Las Vegas or Atlantic City.

It is preposterous to call sweeping 300-page legislation that would, among other things, allow two massive destination resort casinos in South Florida, allow the spread of slot machines and cut taxes on parimutuel slots an effort to control gambling.

Sure, the legislation would require that casinos acquire other parimutuel permits. But if the House leadership were genuinely interested in curtailing gambling, it could adopt legislation simply eliminating dormant permits and let those struggling parimutuels likely to sell their permits simply go out of business, rather than making their permits a windfall.

This effort looks to be aimed at shoring up the gambling industry, not keeping it in check.

Even the provision to create a statewide commission to supervise gambling is suspect. It would likely soon be stacked with friends of an industry capable of funneling buckets of money into political campaigns.

Florida already has too much gambling, with the lottery, parimutuels and the seven Seminole Tribe of Florida facilities, some of which can offer slots and card games.

Should Young’s proposal be adopted and the casinos built, the Seminoles would be entitled under federal law to offer roulette, craps and all the other games also allowed in the state-approved casinos.

This is hardly keeping a lid on gaming.

The better course, given the circumstances, is to renew the state compact with the Seminoles, which brings the state about $230 million a year, but not allow any additional gaming.

This bill is clearly aimed at magnifying gambling’s profile in Florida.

Each casino resort would be required to spend $2 billion on capital costs, not including land. These would be massive resorts that would dominate communities.

And why would Florida want to expand such a predatory enterprise?

Its economy is humming, and record tourism last year nearly reached 100 million visitors. Unleashing an orgy of gambling is not going to strengthen its economy. If anything it will undermine the state’s appeal.

Gambling was once thought to be the salvation of Atlantic City, but that crime-plagued city is now in desperate shape, with casinos closing and unemployment soaring.

Why would Florida leaders want to promote an irresponsible practice that lures people into throwing away their money? Some develop dangerous gambling additions that can lead them to commit other crimes. According to the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling Inc., one-third of callers to the confidential gambling helpline admit to committing illegal acts to finance their gambling.

And Young’s plan, which can easily be made even more indulgent during the legislative session, surely is not the end point for the industry.

Approve destination casinos, and you can be sure there will be future movements to locate them elsewhere, including the West Coast of Florida.

Attorney General Pam Bondi rightly warns us: “I don’t want to see our beautiful beaches turn into Atlantic City.”

Casinos won’t create quality jobs or help attract the kind of industries that sustain an economy.

As research shows, casinos hurt existing businesses, as the gambling houses do their utmost to keep customers inside their facilities day and night.

The money that goes into the gaming institutions is money that would otherwise likely be spent at restaurants, shops and other enterprises that offer patrons something other than bad odds.

We hope most lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott, who unfortunately has been noncommittal about the legislation, recognize that more gambling will make Florida less of an appealing place for residents, tourists and commerce.

To read the piece on the Tampa Tribune website please click here