Gambling proponents start to plan for referendum on Vegas-style casinos in South Florida

No Casinos, a group that successfuly combated proposed legislation this year that would have authorized the resorts, sent an email blast on Monday headlined “They’re BAAAAACK!”

Gambling proponents start to plan for referendum on Vegas-style casinos in South Florida

By Kathleen Haughney and Nick Sortal
Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE –—

After striking out in the Florida Legislature this spring, gambling interests appear to be taking steps to seek direct approval from the state’s voters for building Las Vegas-sized casino resorts in South Florida.

Tallahassee lawyer and political consultant John French filed paperwork last week with the state creating a Political Action Committee called “New Jobs and Revenue for Florida” — with the purpose of holding a statewide constitutional referendum on gambling.

No Casinos, a group that successfuly combated proposed legislation this year that would have authorized the resorts, sent an email blast on Monday headlined “They’re BAAAAACK!”

John Sowinski, head of the anti-gambling group, said he wants the referendum plans made public as soon as possible. The referendum question would be placed on the fall 2014 ballot if pro-gambling forces are able to fulfill certain formalities.

“When you’re on the ‘no’ side, the sooner public discussion starts, the better,” Sowinski said. “People tend to find reasons to be against things, not for things, and the gambling issue tends to hemorrhage over time.”

French would not say who is behind the pro-casino PAC, or whether its exact goal is to reprise the failed efforts by major casino groups — namely Las Vegas Sands, Genting and Wynn Resorts — to open Florida to full-scale casinos.

“Can’t even go there yet,” he said in an interview. But the paperwork noted the PAC’s purpose: “Statewide constitutional initiative, re: gaming.”

The effort to change state law to permit destination casinos — with games like roulette, blackjack and craps — became the highest-profile issue of the 2012 legislative session. Lawmakers, business lobbying groups and gambling companies dueled back and forth on the merits of creating such gambling emporia in South Florida.

Central Florida tourism interests led by Walt Disney World and the Florida Chamber of Commerce; social conservatives, and the state’s pari-mutuel industry and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, whose gambling interests would have faced new competition, all lined up to kill the bill. They will likely join forces again if the new PAC’s intent is to ask voters directly to approve the same plan.

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