Any math teacher will tell you; statistics – when used in the right way – can say just about anything.
Nowhere is that truer than in a new national report on the economic impact of gambling, released Dec. 8 by the American Gaming Association.
With the 2015 legislative session only months away, the debate over gambling expansion in Florida is once again ready to resume. Add to that the impending end of the compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, where a renegotiated agreement could open the door to more widespread card rooms, slot machines and other table games statewide.
As for the AGA’s place in the Sunshine State, the significance of gambling to the economy cannot be overstated.
Or perhaps it can.
In an AGA report dated September 30, the group estimated seven commercial casinos in Florida created more than 3,200 jobs statewide and a payroll of $105.9 million, as well as gambling revenues of $467.6 million.
“This economic activity generated $163.7 million in tax revenue to education and numerous other essential programs in the state,” the AGA report continued.
That was September; the report for December offers a different set of figures — doubled from only two months earlier.
Now, the AGA claims that those same seven commercial casinos in Florida contribute $1.2 billion in economic activity.
Gaming in the state also increased more than twofold; it supports 7,474 jobs, paying more than $325.5 million in wages, $358.9 million in federal, state and local tax revenues, and $163.7 million in gaming taxes.
These new, improved figures seem to come just at the right time for a new round of gambling debates in Tallahassee, as the Legislature’s committee meetings begin the week of January 5.
“It appears that the first set of numbers wasn’t impressive enough so they cooked up another set,’’ said John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, Inc., the Orlando-based anti-gambling coalition.
“Maybe if they go back a third time” he joked, “they’ll find the $500 million that South Florida casinos promised our schools every year. Nobody else has been able to find it.’’
Sowinski also noted that in August the AGA said “it is important not to forget the truly significant contributions gaming has made’’ to Atlantic City.
Not mentioned by the AGA, Sowinski said, was New Jersey’s collapsing casino industry, where Atlantic City unemployment tops 11 percent and the city has a 25 percent poverty rate. Atlantic City municipal bonds have been downgraded to junk because plunging property values transferred the local tax burden from casinos to residents.
“With truly significant contributors like that,” he added, “who needs enemies.’’
In advance of the upcoming legislative session, No Casinos is warning the same thing could happen in Florida – regardless of what statistics are used by the AGA — if gambling expansion gets another shot in 2015.
The first AGA report, dated September 30:
The new and improved AGA report, dated Dec. 8: