It is about time!

The gaming debate is back on in Florida; it debate took a two year hiatus.  It is about time it came back, we need something exciting to follow.  For far too long, Massachusetts has dominated the expansion narrative in the media.  Even New York could not dislodge Massachusetts.  Probably New York could not unseat Massachusetts because there was simply no drama in New York.  There was no name calling, no city by city elections and none endless rounds of negotiations and presentations that have characterized the process in Massachusetts.   Things happened too fast in New York.  Just a year ago, Governor Cuomo said he wanted to expand gaming. In November, the voters approved the ballot measure.  Now Cuomo is pushing for something tangible within a year.  In Massachusetts, a year was not enough to buy the office furniture for the gaming commission, much less issue licenses and put shovels in the ground as Cuomo hopes for New York.

New York may not have offered enough drama, but Florida promises plenty of drama.  The players in Florida are big players with big names and big budgets, not that the casino companies hoping for a license in Massachusetts are lightweights, they are not.  But in Florida, they are really heavy weights.  The financially powerful Seminole Tribe is one of the major economic forces in the state and it is opposed to any gaming expansion.  The tribe started in gaming with a small bingo operation in the 1970s; the tribe now has four casinos that generate $2.2 billion a year in gaming revenue.  The Seminole Tribe also owns the Hard Rock chain with 175 cafes, hotels and casinos worldwide.  In Florida, the tribe has compact with the state that guarantees the tribe exclusivity for some games; in the agreement, set to expire in 2015, the tribe promises to pay the state a billion dollars over a five-year period.  Add that to the tribe’s already significant economic impact on the economy of the state and the tribe becomes a very powerful political force.

Standing next to the Seminole Tribe in opposition to expanding gaming is Disney.  Disney is willing to spend a lot of money to keep casinos from invading its sacred ground.  Disney World is a gold mine for Florida, the Magic Kingdom alone gets nearly 20 million visitors a year and it generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the economy of Florida; its payroll is $1.5 billion a year. One out of every four people employed in Florida works for Disney.  There are 26,000 hotel rooms in the parks; the four parks had a total of 48.5 million visitors in 2012.  Those are not all unique visitors as people go to all of the parks; but, the total of unique visitors is at least 20 million a year.  That is a very significant number for the Disney Corporation and for the state of Florida.  Disney does not want more casinos, particularly not near its Orlando home.  And, at least historically, if Disney does not want something, the majority of state legislators will not want it either.

There is one more heavy weight in the “no more casinos” corner.  Unmentioned in the press at the moment are the Southern Baptists, but they are there nevertheless.  Over 75,000 people a week attend one of their churches in the state.  The Southern Baptists opposed casino legislation last time and are certain to be back out in full strength again this year.   And in a very conservative southern state like Florida, those Baptists carry a lot of weight.

In the opposite corner, are the major casino companies.  The Las Vegas Sands and Sheldon Adelson have gotten most of the press on the subject, but Sheldon is not alone in wanting a piece of Florida’s $70 billion tourist industry and its nearly $8 billion in gaming revenue.  Florida is attractive to most gaming companies.  A couple of years ago, when Genting first made a run at putting a casino in Miami, all of the major gaming companies walked around Florida kicking tires and releasing sketches of imaginary casinos.  As the debated heats up this year in the Florida legislature, there will be a renewed interest by many of those same companies.  And if Massachusetts has proven one thing, it is that all of the major gaming companies are looking for new locations to ply their trade and they are willing to invest time and money in that quest.

The combination of Disney, the Southern Baptists and the Seminole Tribe fighting against the big casino companies should put Florida on center stage.  I can see it now, Adelson and Disney squared off in the streets of Dodge, Caesars and the Seminoles dueling in the noon-day sun and Wynn and the Southern Baptists debating the good life on Good Morning America. It should be great theater, and on slow news days we can always count on Massachusetts to provide us with more stories of that very slow, long process.  If I were to choose sports analogies for the two states, I would say Florida is shaping up to be like the Final Four of college basketball, very fast action pitting the best teams against each other. Massachusetts is like watching cricket – grass grows faster and is more exciting.

Florida’s gambling laws would be rewritten under legislation being crafted by the Senate Gaming Committee, resulting in a more powerful gaming commission with tighter regulations of gambling operations and allowing for large casino resort hotels in South Florida.  Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, chairman of the committee, said Monday he favors up to two casinos in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which he thinks would provide a jolt to the economy. Florida Current, 2-5-14

After years of resistance, the conservative leadership of the Florida House has signaled its willingness to pass legislation that would expand gambling to include new Las Vegas-style casinos in Miami Dade and Broward in exchange for a constitutional amendment that requires voters to approve any new games in the future.  “I would be willing to talk about gaming in the state of Florida, even expansion, in return for contraction in some areas and passing a constitutional amendment,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford in an exclusive interview with the Times/Herald on Tuesday. Mary Ellen Klass, Times/Herald, 2-5-14

To bring Las Vegas-style gambling to Florida, casino operators like Sheldon Adelson are sending more than 100 lobbyists to the state Capitol to battle their biggest adversary: Mickey Mouse. The clash pits casino operators Genting Bhd. (GENT) and Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS), controlled by billionaire Adelson, against Walt Disney Co. (DIS), which runs theme parks and resorts near Orlando, and may face new competition for convention business…Disney, a powerhouse in Florida politics due to its central role in the state’s $71.8 billion tourism industry, hired 34 lobbyists last year, according to state records. A similar number are working to defeat gambling this year, Finger said. Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg, 2-5-14

Allowing Seminole Tribe casinos to offer roulette and craps could be a bargaining chip in striking a new revenue-sharing deal between the tribe and the state, the chair of the Senate’s Gaming committee said… An agreement known as the Seminole Compact allows the tribe to offer Vegas-style gambling, save for roulette and craps, at centers including Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.  That deal included a card-game provision that needs to be renegotiated next year. It guaranteed the state a minimum $1 billion from the tribe’s gambling income over five years. James L. Rosica, Tampa Tribune, 2-5-14

The Florida horse racing industry generates an annual economic impact of $905 million to the state, according to a study presented Monday to the Florida Senate Gaming Committee…In addition to the nearly $1 billion economic impact, the study also showed the racing industry, which includes thoroughbreds, quarter horses and standardbreds, is responsible for 12,000 jobs. Carlos E. Medina, Ocala Star-Banner, 2-5-14



2 Responses to “It is about time!”

  1. 1 David Minter February 7, 2014 at 7:21 am

    Unfortunately Ken what this article shows is you fail to grasp the great game of cricket

  2. 2 Ken Adams February 7, 2014 at 9:24 am

    You are very, very right about that!

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