Guest Column: Florida Shouldn’t Repeat the Gambling Mistakes of Others

SunSentinel

April 18, 2015 

The Sun Sentinel’s five-day editorial series on gambling could have introduced some perspective and coherence into the ongoing debate on gambling in Florida. But if there was a comprehensive solution presented, I sure couldn’t find it.The recurring theme was that more gambling is good gambling even if we already have more than the market can absorb. The editorials backed more gambling for the Seminole Tribe, more gambling for pari-mutuels and more gambling by creation of two mega-casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The Sun Sentinel’s “all of the above” position would hurt Florida’s economy, our quality of life and the character of our communities.

The gambling market is already saturated, as was reported by the Sun Sentinel last year. There are too many casinos too close to each other, without enough customers to go around.

An analysis by the Spectrum Gaming Group predicted that any gambling expansion scenario would draw more than 90 percent of its money from residents, not tourists. With casinos legal almost everywhere, they are no longer a draw for tourists. Rather, expanding gambling is the economic equivalent of musical chairs.

How does shifting customers from one casino to another create economic benefits? How does taking money from existing businesses like restaurants, hotels, bars and movie theaters and funneling it to an expanded gambling industry help our economy?

Some state legislators think that when it comes to gambling, the more the merrier. They want to add 4,000 new slot machines to pari-mutuels in Palm Beach and Lee counties, despite the fact that when Florida voters narrowly approved slots, it was only for Miami-Dade and Broward tracks. Shouldn’t promises made to voters and gambling restrictions in the Florida Constitution matter?

Here’s what would happen if slots were expanded beyond Miami-Dade and Broward: Pari-mutuels with new slots would gain gamblers by raiding existing pari-mutuels. Next year, other pari-mutuels would go back to Tallahassee, begging for slots of their own in order to compete. We call this “gambling creep,” and the only way to stop the cycle is to stop expanding gambling.

It’s happening all over the country. As casino business declines, states that are dependent on gambling revenues frantically approve more and more gambling to cover their losses, and even give giving taxpayer bailouts to keep casinos afloat.

Atlantic City is just one many examples of casinos going bust.

The stakes for Florida, and its highly successful family tourism brand, couldn’t be more serious. Why would we trade what’s working here for what is failing across America?

Federal law and agreements in place with native tribes mean that the pell-mell addition of new games or new locations could result in an explosion of gambling. The resulting costs in terms of addicted gamblers and the crimes they commit in furtherance of that addiction far outweigh any short-term benefit.

Florida needs a gambling policy that starts with a recognition that the intent of the Florida Constitution is to require any expansion of gambling to be decided by the people by constitutional amendment.

John Sowinski is the president of NoCasinos.org.

To read the piece on the Sun-Sentinel website please click here