Gambling interests spend millions on lobbying

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Lilly Rockwell of the News Service of Florida reports that the only winners so far in the effort to allow luxury resort casinos in South Florida, which has widespread implications for every form of gambling in the state, are lobbyists.

Gambling groups from across the nation have spent millions on outside lobbyists since July in preparation for a legislative session that will be dominated by the debate over “destination” resort casinos and their impact on everything from Internet cafes, pari-mutuel race tracks, video gaming vendors and the Seminole Tribe’s casinos.

Gambling businesses and anti-gambling groups have spent up to $2.6 million on lobbyists in the third quarter of this year, according to recently released lobbying financial disclosure forms. There are very few lobbying firms in paitown that do not have a client with skin in the game.

The big spenders this quarter were casino developers like Genting Americas, which spent up to $430,000 on lobbyists in the quarter ending Sept. 30 in preparation for a fight to get legislative approval to build a large resort casino in Miami that it is calling Resorts World Miami.

Genting spent far more than competitor Las Vegas Sands, which spent up to $165,996 spent on lobbyists during the same quarter. In total, casino operators interested in coming to South Florida have spent up to $715,979 on lobbyists in the third quarter alone, making their total for the year $1.7 million.

Jessica Hoppe, the general counsel and vice president of governmental affairs for Genting, defended the lobbyist spending as a necessary means to an end, saying destination resorts have the potential to create 100,000 jobs.

“It’s important that message is heard throughout the Capitol and the state,” Hoppe said in an email, noting that “we put together a great team.”

Genting’s team includes influential players such as Foley and Lardner, Ballard Partners, and The Horne Group. Meanwhile, Las Vegas Sands, which also wants to open a luxury resort casino in South Florida, has hired a team that includes Capital City Consulting and Floridian Partners.

When contacted for comment, Las Vegas Sands spokesman Patrick Slevin said the “financial disclosures speak for themselves.”

Tracking how much is spent on lobbyists is an imperfect science. Lobbyists only report income in ranges, so all figures in this article represent the upper cap. Also, some lobbying firms may report their income twice under legislative and executive lobbying, which are intended to be reported separately. These figures also don

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.