Florida: Palm Trees, Beaches … and Gambling Expansion?
Lawmakers in Florida are beginning to do what their counterparts in many other states across the nation are doing: looking into expanding land-based casino gambling in the state.
According to the Miami Herald, Florida legislators believe that the general attitude about gambling has softened in the state, and the time might be right for the state to seriously begin competing with neighboring states for the almighty gambling dollar.
A similar story is playing out around the United States, as state and local coffers remain empty in the aftermath of the recession, and the race to build new casino resorts to lure tourists and locals alike heats up.
Tribal contract set to expire in 2015
Part of what is motivating lawmakers, who have enlisted a New Jersey-based company called Spectrum Gaming Group to research the effects of gambling expansion in the Sunshine State, is the fact that in 2015 a gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Indian Tribe will come up for renewal.
This contract expiration provides a window of opportunity for the state to look into its options in terms of changing its land-based casino landscape. It could also revisit the compact with the Seminole, from which Florida would receive revenue from table games offered up by the tribe.
Many lawmakers see opportunity, but not all
Lawmakers are hoping that in the process they will also be able to close a few existing loopholes, which have allowed for a seedier side of gambling to creep in. The state has been one of a handful to see a proliferation in recent years of so-called sweepstakes cafés that function much like a casino, offering video betting machines similar to slot machines. Back in April, Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law that banned such establishments, also a common sight in the state of Ohio.
Florida legislators are hoping that the change in resident opinion with regard to casino gambling could translate to dollars for the state, whose Gulf Coast neighbors of Alabama and Mississippi have well-established casino industries that attract many Floridians.
Said Senator Garrett Richter, Republican of Naples, “The goal is to reform Florida’s gambling laws in a way that will benefit Florida’s economy and social welfare for years to come.”
Not so fast, say some folks. Both the state House Speaker, Will Weatherford, and the President of the Florida State Senate, Don Gaetz, are hoping to put the brakes on casino expansion. Some anti-casino factions in the state take umbrage with the fact that the group hired to research the matter is a gaming group that they see as being biased in favor of casino expansion.
The Florida House of Representatives, however, has a conservative makeup, so any bill that would pass that chamber is likely to be fairly restrictive, says Brian Ballard, who works as lobbyist for the Palm Beach Kennel Club, Donald Trump, as well as massive Asian gaming outfit Genting.
Casino gambling becoming more popular with many Americans
According to the paper, 85 percent of Americans find casino gambling an acceptable diversion. Florida is looking at various options, including offering slot machines at existing dog racing tracks as well as building new, resort-style casinos.
One former lawmaker in favor of growing Florida’s gambling industry is Al Lawson, a Democrat hailing from the city of Tallahassee.
“It’s much different this year than it’s ever been before. Legislators are more open to give consideration to this than before,” said Lawson. “Things have changed. We now load up two buses a week bringing people to casinos in Alabama and Mississippi. Why won’t we take advantage of that?”
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