Gambling giant Genting bowing out of '14 ballot effort, will wait for lawmakers

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Casino giant Genting is folding its effort to get a statewide gambling legalization initiative on the ballot, with the company saying it wants to support legislators’ efforts to make a broad examination of gaming in the state, reports David Royse of the News Service of Florida

Malaysia-based Genting Group has made a major push in Florida for legalization of casino gambling, but lawmakers last year ended the session without approving a bill allowing resort casinos that the company wanted. Earlier this year, it created a group that hired petition gatherers and attorneys with expertise in getting constitutional amendments onto the ballot – essentially signaling a possible intent to circumvent the Legislature on the issue.

But Genting officials let legislative leaders know this week that the company won’t go around lawmakers, who have said they want to take a step back from efforts to legalize casino gambling and spend at least a year studying the idea.

“We spoke with the Senate president and the speaker of the House and told them we’re not going to be collecting signatures or going after the petition drive,” Brian Ballard, a lobbyist for Genting, said in an interview Thursday.

Ballard said the company supported the idea – pushed by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel – to take at least this year off from gambling issues and study it over the next two.

“We believe they’re going to do things the right way,” Ballard said.

Much of the work of studying the casino gaming issue will be undertaken by the Senate Gaming Committee.

Its chairman, Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said Genting informed him of the decision Wednesday.

Richter said it could take two legislative sessions to determine how the state wants to move forward with gambling-related issues. He said he wants to come up with meaningful plan while doing everything possible to “minimize regret.”

“I think it’s important for the state of Florida that we not come up with a knee-jerk response, that we come up with a balanced approach,” Richter said.

The group that Genting was affiliated with that was planning a ballot initiative, “New Jobs and Revenues for Florida,” had raised – and mostly spent – just under $1 million on the effort just since April.

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.