In case you missed it, please take a minute to read our interview with the editorial board of the Orlando Sentinel published in today’s edition as well as online.
Whether gambling in Florida expands, shrinks or stands pat has been at stake in talks between state leaders and the Seminole Tribe. A key provision in the compact covering gambling at the tribe’s casinos has expired. Late Monday, Gov. Rick Scott announced a new agreement, but it would need legislative approval. We discussed scenarios with John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, an Orlando-based group opposed to the expansion of gambling.
Q: The Seminole Tribe’s right to exclusively offer blackjack and other banked card games has expired. What would you like to see in an agreement to extend the state’s gambling compact with the tribe?
A: The old compact served as a firewall against the expansion of gambling in Florida by offering the tribe exclusive rights to these games in return for revenue sharing with the state. Any new compact should do that as well. Concessions that would allow more gambling, either by the tribe or others, would violate the original intent of the compact and the promise lawmakers made to the people of Florida when they approved it.
Q: Why would No Casinos want to use compact proceeds to buy out pari-mutuel licenses? Pari-mutuels have been a part of some Florida communities for decades, providing jobs and tax revenue.
Q: Should the state decouple the requirement for a minimum number of dog or horse races from pari-mutuel licenses?
A: Pari-mutuel owners are exploiting concerns about the health and safety of greyhounds to make a full transition to multipurpose betting parlors and high-stakes casino gambling. Florida’s constitution allows pari-mutuel wagering to exist — not other forms of gambling that pari-mutuel owners want to replace them with.
Instead of gifting failing gambling enterprises with more forms of gambling, we have proposed buying back pari-mutuel licenses and humanely retiring greyhounds.
Q: Do you expect proposals for large resort casinos to come back in the next legislative session? And why do you oppose them?
A: Out-of-state and international gambling conglomerates have long targeted Florida and will continue to do so, whether next year or in the future. Voters have rejected them time and again because they increase crime, gambling addiction, government corruption and other social ills that taxpayers ultimately pay for. They also would threaten Florida’s multibillion-dollar family-friendly tourism brand that has led our economy forward while gambling-dependent economies continue to lag.
Q: Tell us about the Voters in Charge amendment that No Casinos is supporting.
A: We believe that Florida’s constitution gives only voters the power to authorize casino-style gambling in Florida. Murky case law has created the presumption that legislators now have this authority. We hope to argue this point before the Florida Supreme Court in an upcoming case. But in the event of an unfavorable ruling, this amendment would ensure voters maintain the exclusive right to approve or reject casino-style gambling.
Q: Gambling proponents argue that Florida should follow the lead of some other states — allow and regulate more casinos, using tax proceeds to improve public services like education. What’s wrong with this argument?
A: Why would we replace an economic strategy that is successful with one that is a proven failure? Google Atlantic City, which is an economic depression after the widespread failure of casinos there. Look at the budget deficits and cuts to services in the biggest gambling states such as Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and others. Compare that to the large budget surpluses enjoyed by Florida, which researchers at George Mason University recently declared one of the most fiscally sound states in the nation.
The evidence is clear. The more states become dependent on gambling revenues, the worse off they become.
Lastly, look at how Nevada’s gambling economy floundered after the Great Recession, whereas Florida’s family-friendly tourism market more quickly rebounded and led the state’s recovery. Las Vegas-style casinos and our tourism marketing are not compatible, as Las Vegas discovered when it tried to copy our family-brand in the 1990’s and failed miserably.
Florida’s future is based on economic diversification and continuing to attract high-wage employers. Casinos bring nothing to this table. They do not create economic growth, they just feed off what already is in place.