A tale of two cities – Gretna and Miami – highlights the week that was in Florida politics

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It’s hard to picture two places in Florida more different than Miami and Gretna, writes Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

But international, glitzy Miami and rural, down-home Gretna are drawing headlines for the same reason: gambling.

The debate about expanded gambling intensified this week, as lawmakers and lobbyists get ready to battle about adding resort casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Meanwhile, the Gadsden County Commission agreed to hold a referendum about allowing slot machines at a new Gretna racetrack and poker room.

Gambling offers sizzle, but lawmakers and other state leaders also made clear this week they are concerned about, well, less-exciting issues. That includes auto insurance, workers-compensation insurance and the always-thorny Citizens Property Insurance.

SPINNING THE WHEEL ON GAMBLING AND JOBS
House sponsor Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and Senate sponsor Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, met with a roomful of reporters Thursday to rebut criticism of their proposal to allow three resort casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward.

Criticism is coming from various directions, including religious groups, some business organizations, the Seminole Tribe and the pari-mutuel industry.

But Fresen offered an explanation that resonates from the waterfront in Miami to the timber of Gadsden County: New gambling facilities will bring new jobs.

“My community is begging me,” he said. “Can we do something to inject some capital into our economy? I have $6 billion knocking on my door from an industry who wants to come in with all private capital.”

But groups such as the Florida Baptist Convention, the Florida Catholic Conference and Florida Family Action held a news conference earlier to say expanded gambling is a fool’s bet. They say, among other things, that it hurts poor people and damages the state’s family-friendly reputation.

“We are working to make our message very clear to legislators that it is unconscionable to vote for a change that will negatively affect thousands of families in our state,” said Mark Andrews, chairman of Florida Casino Watch, a group that took part in the news conference.

With the legislative session starting in January, such back-and-forth arguments will continue for the foreseeable future. But one of the most important voices in the debate could be House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

When asked about casinos this week, Cannon was diplomatic and said he was trying to reserve judgment on the proposals. But he also didn’t leave any doubt about his views of gambling.

“I am philosophically opposed to the expansion of gaming in our state,” Cannon said.

PIP, OTHER ISSUES PILE UP

Gambling might be the issue du jour, but insurance issues never fade away.

Lawmakers and other state leaders this week called for changes in the personal-injury protection auto insurance system, the workers-compensation insurance system and — that old perennial — Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

But actually making changes isn’t so easy, at least in part because so many interest groups have stakes in issues such as PIP and workers comp.

A panel created to study PIP fraud and inflated auto-insurance costs agreed that the system has soaring premiums and a rising number of claims. But panel members couldn

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.