Before 1977, Nevada was the only place in America where high stakes casino gambling was legal. That year, casinos were legalized in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It did not take gambling interests long to target what they considered then, and now, as the biggest prize – Florida.
But unlike Atlantic City, leaders in Florida realized that we have much to lose. So then-Governor Reuben Askew took a bold stand. He didn’t just oppose a casino-bankrolled ballot initiative to legalize casinos in Florida – he created an organization to stop it. And he rallied leaders from the business, civic, law enforcement, religious and governmental communities to recognize what we all have to lose, and to engage the fight.
From that day forward, “No Casinos” was more than just a political effort – it was an important civic cause. Voters overwhelmingly rejected high stakes casinos gambling in 1978. And when the casino carnival bus made its way to Florida again in 1986 and 1994, No Casinos was reactivated to once again lead the fight with the help of the same coalition Governor Askew brought together in 1978.
In 2004, No Casinos rallied to fight a ballot initiative to legalize slot machines at dog tracks, horse tracks and jai alai frontons in Dade and Broward Counties. Following a well funded deceptive campaign that led voters to believe that the amendment was to merely regulate existing slot machines (see ads here). The amendment narrowly passed with 50.8% of the vote.
Today the risk is even greater. The odds are even higher. But there is a big difference. Emboldened by lobbyist encouragement and court decision that appears to give the legislature – rather than voters – the power to legalize casino gambling in our state – legislators are considering expansions of gambling that would change the fabric of our state. These expansions would hurt our Florida’s families, our local businesses and our family-friendly brand that is the envy of virtually every other state in our nation.
No Casinos has once again been reactivated to stop this threat to our economy, our families, our quality of life, and the character of our communities. Our supporters include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Attractions Association, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Sheriff’s Association – to name just a few
More gambling means more gambling addicts. More addicts mean more crime. Those are simple statements, but they have profound impacts on Florida families. According to statistics from the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, 35% of the callers to their 24-hour HelpLine admit resorting to illegal acts to finance their gambling habit. The most frequently cited primary gambling problem is slot machines. As gambling addicts look for money to fuel their addiction, their first targets are often those closest to them – their families. They drain family bank accounts taking money for food, housing and other critical needs. When that runs out, they may turn to robbery or embezzlement to get the money they need.
Florida need only look at the example of Atlantic City to see the full effect of major gambling expansion on local businesses. Within a few years of legalizing casino gambling in the 1970’s, 40% of the local restaurants and retail businesses were forced to close their doors. Money spent in a casino is money not spent in other local businesses, restaurants, entertainment complexes or other segment of our state’s economy. Some studies call this “substitution effect” but we call it cannibalization. In fact, a study often referenced by casino supporters that attempts to rebut this argument provides a specific mention of Florida. On page 17 of that report the study states, “Overall, the only case where the substitution effect might be negative is that of a casino disrupting an already healthy tourist base, such as in the concern expressed in the Florida (1995) study”
Florida has invested billions of dollars in creating a family-friendly brand that is the envy of virtually every other state in the nation. And it’s working. Last year, Florida welcomed 100 million visitors, a record for our state and continuing to make Florida the top tourist destination in the U.S. Additionally, the efforts of Florida’s business community and state leaders have led our state to regain our AAA bond rating, pay down $3.5 billion in debt and enjoy a record budget surplus for 2014. This family an business-friendly brand is not compatible with the mega-casino brand of places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City. It is not by accident that 16 Fortune 500 companies have chosen Florida as their home, while Nevada has none outside the gambling industry.
Time and again we have seen that you can’t stop, manage or control gambling by expanding gambling. As the video warns, “It won’t stop there,” and it would be foolish to believe that the current expansion push by gambling lobbyists will produce a different outcome. They will always want more.
Pushing Luck is a short documentary by NoCasinos.org that takes a clear-eyed look at the economic and social perils of expanded gambling.
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