Florida History Proves Link Between Casino Gambling and Corruption

John Sowinski | NoCasinos
Letter to the Sunshine State News
July 22, 2013


I read with interest the Sunshine State News column by Nancy Smith, “No Casinos Inc., No Sense of History,” contending that a press release I issued on behalf of NoCasinos.org demonstrated no sense of Florida history.

Actually, if we were guilty of any historical lapses in our release, it was significantly understating the historical relationship between casino gambling and corruption in Florida — not overstating it, as Smith suggests.

Smith’s column correctly asserts that Florida is no stranger to official corruption. But the column seems to argue that, since we’ve already lost our political innocence, we shouldn’t be concerned about what industries our state climbs into bed with next. That’s like arguing that we already have a gambling problem, so we should solve it by doubling down (an argument commonly made by casino gambling advocates).

We never said that Florida is free of corruption. We’re saying what most Floridians intuitively understand, something proven by an article from the Pew Center, which we highlighted: Legalizing Las Vegas-style casinos in Florida would increase public corruption.

The most bizarre part of Ms. Smith’s column is her apparent belief that a casino company making a secret payment of $250,000 to a sitting speaker of the House is not an example of public corruption. The column correctly mentioned that then-Florida House Speaker Bo Johnson went to federal prison for tax evasion as opposed to corruption charges (much like Al Capone earned a one-way ticket to Alcatraz for, um, tax evasion). But she did not mention that the biggest chunk of income Johnson failed to report was his secret six-figure payment from Bally Entertainment, made during the company’s failed effort in the mid-1990s to legalize casinos in Florida. Smith’s column contends that this doesn’t qualify as corruption. No reasonable person would agree.

Gambling-related corruption in Florida is as real as its history is long. Here are a few examples that our press release did not mention:

Today, for the first time in memory, we have gone several months without a lieutenant governor because our LG resigned from office, apparently because of her ties to illegal Internet gambling cafes.

A recent criminal investigation has uncovered evidence that gambling interests funneled half-a-million dollars into a business owned by family-members of a disgraced former congressman. These dollars allegedly enriched that congressman, who, like Johnson and many politicians found on the payrolls of casino bosses, failed to disclose the payments.

And who could forget Larry Smith? The Florida congressman who went to jail in the 1990s for tax evasion and filing a false campaign report. Smith didn’t take money from the gambling industry. Rather, he secretly syphoned money from his campaign account in order to pay personal expenses, including a large gambling debt.

Anyone concerned about ethics in government should study campaign finance reports and news accounts about the gambling industry’s political generosity. Ever since legislative discussions of casino gambling started in 2011, the money has flowed from the gambling industry to campaign coffers, political parties and electioneering committees faster than a greyhound chasing a fake rabbit.

Is the Las Vegas Sands (currently under federal investigation for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) and the Malaysian casino conglomerate, Genting, spending all that money on lobbyists and political donations because they suddenly and spontaneously decided to help Florida underwrite “good government”? Or are they funneling enormous amounts of money into campaign coffers to increase their influence so that their illegal product will be legalized? Does this unprecedented cash-rush, albeit within the four corners of campaign finance law, represent a potentially corrupting influence on our policymaking process?

Whether Florida should legalize mega-casinos is fair game for public debate. But to suggest that there is no link between casino gambling and public corruption is to ignore Florida history, and common sense.

Read the article online here.