Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to expand gambling in Florida, typically with new full-sized, Vegas-sytle gambling casinos. For the past few years, these efforts have been unsuccessful, despite many different avenues for making expansion a reality. As a new legislative session is soon to quickly move through its short cycle, the mood may be shifting. The talks even a week ago had signaled that gambling expansion seemed a dead issue. Then, billionaire casino operator Sheldon Adelson set his sights more firmly on Florida and he sent over a 100 lobbyist to convince lawmakers to expand. Bloomberg online reports:
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. Companies on both sides of the dispute are sending lobbyists and campaign checks to Florida lawmakers, who say they’ll consider expanding gambling this year.
Disney argues gambling would hurt the state. “The massive expansion of gambling that would come from legalizing mega-casinos would be a bad bet for Florida’s taxpayers, tourism brand and existing businesses,” said Andrea Finger, a Disney spokeswoman, in a statement.
In a legislature controlled by Republicans, many have sought to voice moral opposition to gambling while also keeping the door open to expansion proposals.
The goal is to protect Florida’s “family-friendly” image, said Hart. Disney, which is a top contributor to the Chamber’s political committee and has a seat on the board, has made similar arguments to lawmakers.
So are these new lobbyist efforts actually working? It would appear so. The mood has clearly shifted to expanding gambling, Conservative leadership has gone from a position of no expansion, to expansion with various conditions. The Tampa Bay Times explains:
After years of resistance, the conservative leadership of the Florida House has signaled its willingness to pass legislation that would expand gambling in Florida to include new Las Vegas-style casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward in exchange for a constitutional amendment that requires voters to approve any future games.
“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,” House Speaker Will Weatherford said in an exclusive interview with the Times/Herald on Tuesday.
Because the speaker dictates the agenda and controls which bills get a priority, Weatherford’s statement Tuesday breathes new life into an issue that appeared to be stalled for another year.
It also guarantees that legislators have more time to solicit campaign contributions to their political committees from multinational casino giants as well as the Florida horse tracks, dog tracks and jai alai frontons that want their own casinos.
“The fact this is an issue being discussed by the Legislature at all is a testament to the political influence of the gambling industry,” said John Sowinski, president of the Orlando-based No Casinos.
He said the discussion ignores the findings of Spectrum Gaming Group, which the Legislature paid $400,000 to analyze new gambling’s impact on the Florida economy. It found that gambling would continue to expand and that the state’s economy is so big that casinos would have little state impact.
“Never has so much intellectual energy been spent on an issue for which there is so little public appetite,” Sowinski said.
Its hard to imagine that lawmakers that call themselves conservative and dedicated to serving their constituents can even consider expanding gambling when they know full well what the consequences will be. They are willing to encourage their friends and neighbors to become losers so the casinos and State can be winners. This is a terrible trade off and its even more disheartening to see such a swift change in position simply because more money is being thrown at the situation by lobbyists and political campaign contributions.
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