AN OPEN RESPONSE TO NANCY SMITH
No Casinos President provides open response to biased online tabloid
No Casinos is the loyal opposition to casino-style gambling in Florida, and Nancy Smith of Sunshine State News has made herself the loyal opposition to No Casinos. The frequency of her missives and the tone they have taken make it clear that SSN is not a purveyor of news or commentary, but just another advocate in the arena, leading many to wonder who is influencing SSN’s editorial content.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since two years ago noted Tampa Bay Times reporter Lucy Morgan unearthed a lot of interesting facts about Sunshine State News. Like the fact that their ownership is secret, and that “Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism ranks Sunshine as the least transparent news website in journalism’s new Internet-based landscape.” http://www.tampabay.com/features/media/mystery-ownership-of-sunshine-state-news-identified-as-cnn-but-its-not/1195383
Ms. Smith sent a laundry list of questions to John Sowinski of No Casinos. The trouble is, most of it is ground already covered in writing from Sowinski to Smith, and she is apparently not asking the same questions of those who support casinos.
So that our organization’s words can be provided in their entirety to everyone, not through Smith’s admittedly biased filter, we’re providing Smith’s questions and Sowinski’s answers to the thousands of Floridians who read our emails.
Subject: Questions / Please reply by the end of the day, thanks
I see No Casinos has enlisted the help of 23 lobbyists. That’s a story, or at least a commentary. Please help me to understand a few things about your organization by responding to the following questions:
1. You were critical of Genting when they hired 27 lobbyists two years ago. But your 23 puts you in the same league. I admit, I see this as hypocritical. Why do you need 23 lobbyists and who is paying you to employ them?
This is not a battle of our choosing, but we don’t intend to cede the battlefield to the other side. We need a strong lobbying presence because the gambling interests have between 150 – 200 lobbyists in Tallahassee today – not just 27 from Genting that you mention. I know that the gambling lobbyists you side with would prefer that we not have any voice in Tallahassee, but as I told you in my August 12th email reply to you, that view is arrogant and un-American. The voices of all sides of this issue deserve to be heard.
As I pointed out in my August 12th email to you: “Historically, No Casinos has opposed ballot initiatives to legalize casinos because that’s where the casino question was being posed — at the ballot box. Now that it is being posed to the legislature, we’re making our case in Tallahassee and throughout Florida. If the gambling interests don’t like the fact that we’re playing in what used to be their sandbox, then they should do a statewide ballot initiative instead of a full-scale legislative push and we will fight them there like we have in the past.”
Nobody is less pleased than we are with the idea of having to hire lobbyists to defend Florida from the threat that casinos represent to state, our economy, our public safety, our quality of life, and the character of our communities.
But this is the hand we were dealt, and we don’t intend to show up with a knife to a gun fight as our opponents, including you, would prefer.
As it relates to who is paying our lobbyists, No Casinos is paying them. As it relates to who contributes to us, we, like virtually every other lobbying organization in Tallahassee and Washington, do not disclose our donors. That’s part of our freedom of speech in America. If you have a problem with that, your problem is with the Constitution, not No Casinos.
If anything is hypocritical here, it is that these questions are being raised by you, since Sunshine State News has been criticized for secrecy related to who owns your website and who is paying you. Apparently that’s why Pew Research’s Project for Excellence in Journalism ranked your organization last for transparency.
2. How large is the No Casinos staff? Does this small nonprofit, as you have characterized it, pay you a salary, Mr. Sowinski? Is No Casinos paying Consensus Communications? Who do you work for?
We’re small all right, but I won’t be opening any part of our playbook to our opponents. Out of curiosity, have you bothered to ask these same questions of Frank Fahrenkopf? He’s not even a Floridian yet he’s apparently been enlisted to shill for somebody down here. Are your eyebrows less raised by the most powerful casino lobbyist in America suddenly making a lot of appearances in Florida arguing for casinos than by me doing what I’ve done off and on since 1994?
Of course I’m paid by No Casinos – through a contract with my firm. Do you think I’d be doing all this work for free? Who is paying you? I feel strongly enough about this issue that I probably would work for free if I was independently wealthy, but unfortunately I have to make a living. But since you’re questioning my motives, know that I turned down 2 offers to work for pro-casino campaigns back in 1994, which is what caused me to look up No Casinos and Andy Hines, then-Chairman of No Casinos, who hired me.
3. You say you and No Casinos have been around for 30-plus years. So, I am wondering where you’ve been on the lottery? On quarterhorse permits? On electronic gaming? On card parlors in pari-mutuel facilities? On cruises to nowhere? On the tribal compacts? No Casinos is explosive on resort casinos, virtually if not literally silent on other gambling, even when casino games are proliferating at other venues in the state. Why is that?
Nancy, we’re “No Casinos”, not “No Lottery” not “No Horse Racing”, dog racing etc. Again let me direct you to my email to you on August 12th. Here’s what I told you then: “Finally, the idea that we’re gearing up just on the destination ‘mega-casino’ issue is bunk. Read our press releases and watch our last video. We led the fight against internet cafés and we’re taking it to the Division of Parimutuel Wagering over Gretna. Hardly a singular focus on mega-casinos.” Your assertion that No Casinos has been virtually silent on gambling other than resort casinos is patently false. In the year between the end of the 2012 session into the 2013 session, we devoted almost our entire focus to the elimination of internet cafés. Long before the arrests and resignations began, we were there, highlighting the problem and calling on the legislature to close them down.
As I mentioned above, our primary mission historically has been to fight statewide ballot initiatives that attempt to legalize casino gambling. For that reason, No Casinos has typically been more of a campaign entity than a standing organization. Because the threat is working its way through a different process, we have to retool accordingly.
Forms of gambling that are not casino style gambling don’t generally fall under our mission. We have never sought to un-do parimutual permits (though we do oppose their efforts to become de-facto casinos) and like most voters in Florida, we make a distinction between the lottery and casinos (btw, on the same ballot in 1986 lotteries passed by about the same 2-1 margin that casinos failed).
I have shared with you in past conversations that we led the opposition to card rooms in 1995 (we beat it on a house floor vote with the help of Bob Starks-R, Winter Park and Lois Frankel-D, West Palm Beach) and in 1996 (unfortunately, we lost the card room battle that year). Ask Steve Geller. I’m sure he remembers those fights.
As you know cruises to nowhere exist because they operate outside of the reach of Florida law. And as for the tribes, we campaigned against what they have when we opposed the 2004 Dade-Broward slots amendment. We told folks that the pro-slots campaign wasn’t telling them that if the slots amendment passed, federal law would require a compact with the tribe, and that would mean casino style gambling at tribal facilities outside Dade and Broward. Unfortunately, by eight-tenths of one percent (when only a 50% margin was required for passage) we lost that one.
4. Disney has one of the world’s largest casinos 75 miles from its theme parks. It never raised a finger at the many expansions at Seminole Hard Rock Tampa. And neither have you. Why not? Is it because Disney, the chambers of commerce and the Tribe serve on the same boards and have come to an agreement — and they are all major contributors to No Casinos?
You’ll have to ask Disney any questions about Disney. As for No Casinos, let me answer your last question first by directing you to my response above and once again to my email of August 12th:
“We have a lot of donors, and we don’t speak for them or say who or who has not contributed to us. We will say that our bylaws prohibit us accepting money from any gambling interest. That’s usually the next phony argument made by casino interests — that their gambling competitors are funding the opposition.”
And are you suggesting that we might have influence over what the tribe does with its buildings on tribal land? That we could get the tribe to vote against itself on expansion of their facilities? Again, we wish the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act did not function the way it does, but we’re not built to lead a federal lobbying effort against every Native American tribe in the country.
As for the Seminole Hard Rock’s claim of being the 6th largest casino in the world – I know that’s what their ads say, but they are still not a full-up Vegas style casino because there are many forms of Class III casino gambling they are not authorized to conduct. I’m sure they’ll be trying to get more, and we’ll be there to oppose them.
If you can’t get to these answers by the end of the day, please give me a time when I can count on their return.
Thanks a lot for your attention.Nancy Smith Executive Editor Sunshine State News