As Florida legislature again debates gambling expansion, both sides ready for battle

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In advance of the next year’s legislative cycle, gambling advocates once again push to expand gaming in Florida, asking for stronger regulations and permission to build large casinos.

According to Gray Rohrer in The Florida Current, only one thing is guaranteed so far — a lot of money will be riding on the issue.  

In 2012, casino corporations failed with HB487, which would have allowed at least three South Florida casinos. Heavy lobbying, both for and against, resulting in the bill dying in the House.

As the state Legislature waits on a comprehensive study on gaming, legislative panels convene next week, and the Senate Gaming Committee begins a series of statewide meetings. Both pro- and anti-gambling forces are starting to exert pressure, through donations and lobbying.

Insiders say that this time, the process will see more money than ever.

With gambling in Florida, the issue is much the same as before — casinos want to build larger resorts; parimutuels want more slot machines and lower taxes to compete with new casinos; the Seminole Indian Tribe is looking at the end of their monopoly on banked card gaming in 2015. Central Florida attractions like Disney are also opposed to any gambling expansion, which they consider competition for tourist dollars.

But some things have also changed. Gambling opponents contend that an improved economy weakens the argument that casinos will bring job growth; supporters say casinos will bring in dollars regardless of the economy. Internet cafes have been banned, and parimutuels are under increasing scrutiny.

The politics have changed, as well. Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford set up several gaming committees, as well as commissioning a study, due out by Oct. 1, on the economic and social effects of the gambling expansion. The goals of the select committees are to examine, strengthen and clarify the rules on gaming in Florida, something both sides of the issue welcome.  

Loopholes in gaming laws, which allowed new gambling to flourish, have been a leading criticism by anti-gambling forces. Gambling advocates welcome the opportunity for a more structured regulatory body to develop their interests in the state properly.  

 

 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.