Lobbyists sure winners from intense debate on future of gambling in Florida

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Lobbyists and public relations firms fired the first shots in the battle over gambling expansion in Florida, according to James Rosica in the Tampa Tribune.

The first strike was in a New York Times article, where Marvel Comics licensed it characters for use on slot machines. The story featured a SpiderMan slot at the Mardi Gras casino in South Florida.

Disney, a long-time enemy of Florida gambling, owns Marvel.

Michael A. Leven, president of Las Vegas Sands Corp., was quoted criticizing Disney in the Times piece. The Sands has pushed to create a Florida destination resort-casino, represented by Tallahassee-based PR firm Sachs Media Group.

Next, Orlando-based No Casinos Inc. came out Thursday with guns blazing against the Sands. No Casinos representatives revealed that Ana Cruz, a Florida lobbyist for Sachs, “orchestrated” a busload of Tampa pro-gambling seniors to speak at the Lakeland public workshop by the state Senate Gaming Subcommittee.

No Casinos — secretive of its own funding sources — admits to having 23 paid lobbyists. There are now least 180 registered lobbyists currently working for various gambling business concerns.

Another shot over the bow was a recently commissioned survey by the Sands saying that 61 percent of Floridians favor gambling in some form, with 67 percent opposed internet gambling — a notable roadblock to the development of large destination resorts. 

After several years of sitting on the issue, the Legislature will soon consider expanded gambling, such as Las Vegas-style casino-resorts. Most likely, there will be bills presented to the 2014 Legislature with billions of dollars in potential profits and tax revenue on the table.

The battle for expanded gambling did have some minor “casualties.” Pro-gambling supporters were setback with the final version of a $389,000 statewide gambling research paid for by the Legislature, which found expanded gambling having “a moderately positive impact on the state economy.”

In the struggle to understand exactly what Floridians want, legislators are not only susceptible to lobbying efforts, but they are also sensitive to constituents pushing for expanded gaming.

On the other hand, many of these “grassroots” populist endeavors seem to have the fingerprints of well-funded stakeholders with an interest in the outcome — something called “astroturfing” in the lobbying industry.

The most crucial issue, Rosica writes, is that many people would have trouble identifying between actual grassroots and Astroturf; under the pressure of a legislative session, lawmakers often can’t tell the difference, either.

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.