Even after New York Times story on Disney’s gambling ties, debate about expanded gaming remains a coin flip

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By sheer coincidence, the two most recommended articles on the New York Times website as of Sunday afternoon were a pair of very different stories about the seemingly never-ending effort to expand gaming in the state of Florida.

The first was about the trial of Anthony Ferrari, a former owner of a Miami Beach security company who had ties to the Gambino crime family and was found guilty Friday of first-degree murder and conspiracy in the 2001 shooting death in Fort Lauderdale of Konstantinos Boulis, a restaurateur who founded SunCruz Casinos. 

The second story is shaped, in a very distant way, by the first. It is about the difficulty the Walt Disney Company is encountering in its attempt to keep a constantly growing entertainment conglomerate completely removed from gambling. It is because of stories like the first that the subject of the second “has long led the fight against the expansion of casinos in the state, arguing successfully that gambling tarnishes Florida’s coveted family-friendly brand.”

Disney finds itself in a conundrum because Marvel properties it acquired in 2009, such as Spider-Man, continue to appear on slot machines, Internet slot machines and state lottery tickets. The lottery tickets have featured Iron Man and the Avengers. Reporters Lizette Alvarez and Michael Snyder explore whether these ties to the gambling industry, through Marvel, undercut Disney’s position on casino gambling.

Only a few hours after the story posted online, it was forwarded to me by a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist. Not soon thereafter, the Sunshine State News’ Nancy Smith, who writes so often in favor of expanded gambling that she might as well be the editor of the Daily Racing Form, was trumpeting the NY Times piece as the “outing” of Disney’s casino connection

Smith has recently been engaged in an increasingly contemptuous back-and-forth with No Casinos, Inc. over whether the state should call, raise, or fold its bet on gambling in Florida. No Casinos went right at Smith, pointing to a Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism report which ranked Smith’s news organization as the “least transparent news website in journalism’s new Internet-based landscape.” Smith responded with a column relishing in her role as “the loyal opposition to … No Casinos.” Once the New York Times article posted, Smith went right to work attacking Disney.

Rather than the piece being viewed as anti-Disney or pro-gambling, there was something in it for both sides. Opponents of Disney can, if they must, point to the dilemma Disney is in regarding the licensing of its properties to gaming interests. However, Disney appears to be doing all that it can to address the situation. 

According to the Times:

A Marvel spokeswoman said last week that the company planned to shed its connection to slot machines when the various licensing agreements expire. On Saturday, the spokeswoman added that Marvel had signed its last slot machine deal two years ago. 

Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk and others will begin to disappear from casinos and Internet gambling sites over the next “few years,” the spokeswoman said.

“Marvel discontinued plans to initiate or renew slot machine licensing arrangements as part of its integration with Disney,” the spokeswoman said. “The handful of remaining license agreements have expiration dates within the next few years.”

Despite its even-handedness, The Times piece has been emailed around Tallahassee and the statewide media faster than the spin of a roulette wheel.

On its face, the Times story feels a lot like the recent report presented to the Legislature by Spectrum Gaming Group., a New Jersey-based research firm hired to assess the economic effects and social costs of expanded gambling in Florida. Gaming proponents took from the report the argument that Florida could easily absorb the impact of expanded gambling, especially through the construction of destination resorts in South Florida. No Casinos, Inc. and its allies pointed to the report’s findings that expanded gambling would bear little economic fruit for the state.

In Texas Hold’em poker, this kind of situation —  a heads-up, all-in showdown between two opposing hands — is known as a “race” and is best exemplified by one player holding a suited Ace and King and the other player holding a pocket pair, such as two 7’s. The odds of either player is about the same as a coin-flip. 

After two rounds of media stories — the Spectrum report and this New York Times piece — the side winning the gaming debate is no easier to determine than knowing whether a flipped coin will show heads or tails. 

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.