Senate Committee hears Florida gambling “wish list” at first statewide hearing

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Nearly 100 people attended a Senate Gaming Committee meeting in Broward County Wednesday, bringing with them a “laundry list” for gambling in Florida.

Some wanted to end horse racing entirely, while others asked for money for gambling addiction treatment, reports Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida.

The Senate committee held the first of four statewide hearings to deal with the future of Florida gambling. Nothing was off the table—everything from Las Vegas-style resorts to increasing the number of senior arcades.

Several speakers wanted to keep the Florida’s horse breeding and racing industry, with its century-old financial impact on the state.

“This industry creates possibilities for people,” Calder Casino and Race Course President Austin Miller told the committee. “Please consider the vital contributions our existing operators make to the economy.”

Many who attended the Coconut Grove hearing, Kam notes, was in favor of “destination resorts” that offer amenities like casino gambling, as well meeting spaces, hotels, dining and shopping.

“Bring in destination casinos. Get rid of the horse tracks,” Gaile Dvoretz told the committee. “We want the gambling here. We want it done right. Your job is to use common sense and do it right.”

Gambling addicts and counselors also suggested that no matter what lawmakers decide, funds for treatment were required, since insurance usually does not include treatment for gambling addictions.

“You don’t open a ski resort on the assumption that nobody’s going to be hurt. That’s just silly. The cost of doing business as a ski resort is you recognize there’s going to be broken legs,” said Robert Hunter, director of the Las Vegas-based Problem Gambling Center. “You don’t close the ski slope. You fund the ski patrol.”

Stella Kerrigan told the committee she visits the senior arcade near her home in Broward County “to have somewhere to go and have fun,” although the 94-year-old doesn’t gamble.

“I don’t want to gamble. Gambling is when you go to the horse races or the dog races or to the big casinos,” Kerrigan said. “This is just fun and meeting people and enjoying yourself and making friends.”

The next public feedback forum of the Senate Gaming Committee is Wednesday, Oct. 30 at George Jenkins High School in Lakeland beginning 3 p.m.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.