South Florida gambling plans head for trouble

“Contrary to the argument posited by proponents of HB 487, it is undeniable that this is an attempt at expanding gambling,” he said. “To say otherwise is wrong, preposterous, and unfortunately, an attempt to mislead a community in desperate need of economic relief. “

South Florida gambling plans head for trouble

Kathleen Haughney, Nick Sortal
Orlando Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE – A controversial plan to massively expand gambling in South Florida appears headed for more trouble as the House and Senate move in opposite directions.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, released a 146-page rewritten version of his destination casino bill that bans Internet cafes, lowers pari-mutuel tax rates and reconfigures a regulation considered crucial to Las Vegas operators who want to do business in the state. It would not grant casino licenses until 2017 — the original timeline had a commission awarding licenses in mid 2013.

Both Fresen and Senate sponsor Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, have had to make a number of changes to their respective bills to win votes. But her version allows pari-mutuel facilities to become full blown casinos if destination resorts open in their counties. Her bill regulates Internet cafes and lets other counties get slot machines at their gambling facilities.

Fresen said his revisions were necessary to win votes in the bill’s first committee hearing slated for Friday

“The upgrades were all for the most part driven by me based on conversations with the different committee members,” Fresen said. “[But] the basic core of the bill is still there.”

The destination casino proposal has always faced an uphill climb. Supporters argue it could bring the state thousands of jobs, and be a boon to the South Florida economy. Opponents counter it would hurt the state’s family-friendly image and cannibalize local businesses.

It has divided business groups like the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which opposes it, and Associated Industries, which supports it. The two have traded ad attacks for the past several weeks over issues of job creation, the crime rate and the image of the Sunshine state.

No Casinos, Inc., a group that has operated in the past to fight gambling expansion measures, released a study that predicts crime would rise 8 to 12 percent if two destination casinos were added, and the cost to imprison the perpetrators (mostly from robberies and thefts) would be $3 billion for 10 years. The numbers were based on 23 academic studies, but Jessica Hoppe, general counsel of casino resort company Genting, called it a “scare tactic.”

“Today’s publicity stunt is a condemnable attempt to manipulate the community through scare tactics,” she said. “The true objective of this group is to deny the voters of Miami-Dade and Broward counties an opportunity to have a say on the destination resorts issue.”

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