Following unsuccessful attempts in the Legislature to bring resort gambling to Florida, a newly formed group backed by a huge casino interest appears to be gearing up to take its battle to the ballot box in 2014.
Created in April, “New Jobs and Revenues for Florida” has already spent nearly $600,000 toward what appears to be an effort to put an initiative before voters, according to campaign finance records filed with state election officials that were made public Friday.
A spokesman for New Jobs, however, said the group is in the planning stages and has made no definitive decision whether it will try to circumvent the Legislature and takes its case directly to Florida voters as early as 2014.
But a list of expenditures filed with state election officials gives a relatively clear picture.
Most notably, National Voter Outreach, a Nevada-based petition gatherer, was paid $50,000.
“National Voter Outreach is a political consulting firm specializing in organizing signature drives to qualify issues and candidates for the ballot,” the company says on its website.
Another $150,000 has been paid to Fort Lauderdale Attorney Bruce Rogow for consulting and legal services. Rogow, a high profile appellate lawyer, has argued a number of cases before the state Supreme Court, which would have to approve any ballot language.
The group’s major initial expenditures also include $350,000 to Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates, an Alexandria, Va.- based media and campaign consulting group with strong ties to Republicans including Gov. Rick Scott.
“There are some obvious experts that are listed there,” said Brian Hughes, a spokesman for the group. “The key now is for the committee to determine which path forward makes sense.”
The group is backed almost exclusively by companies affiliated with mega-resort developer, Malaysian-based Genting Group. Together the Bayfront 2011 Development and Resorts Word have anted up $605,500.
A spokesman for the company declined to comment on the specific goals of the New Jobs effort, saying only that the company continues to target Florida as a “premiere destination” for international travelers.
“Our contribution to ‘New Jobs and Revenue for Florida is simply one more example of our commitment to exploring how to enhance entertainment and hospitality choices here,” said Genting spokesman Cory Tilley. “Job creation and expanding economic opportunity for the people of Florida are goals we are proud to support.”
Hughes said he expects a wide variety of business interests and individuals to throw their support behind the group’s effort in the months to come.
“Without a doubt there will be more stakeholders and it will cut across industries,: Hughes said Friday.
Genting has been a major player in the recent push to expand Florida gambling law to allow resort-style casinos to operate in the state. The developments are far bigger and more diverse then previously approved gaming initiatives in Broward and Miami Dade Counties and at Indian gambling facilities in other parts of the state.
In presentations to lawmakers, Genting and others described mega-developments with housing, shopping, entertainment and commercial activities as well as black jack tables and slot machines.
Recent legislative efforts to pass some sort of resort-style casino bill have proved too heavy a lift.
In February, a controversial bill( HB 487) to allow mega-resort casinos in Florida died in committee after the House sponsor scrapped a vote by a key subcommittee that likely would have rejected the idea.
The defeat came despite the backing of some large business groups like Associated Industries of Florida. Opponents however, included the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Material from the News Service of Florida’s Michael Peltier was used in this report.