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Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
Should Florida expand casino gambling?
Rich Bard's picture
Rich Bard
Our first roundtable focuses on a most-contentious issue facing the Florida Legislature. Proposed legislation would permit up to three so-called destination resort casinos with investments of at least $2 billion each in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where voters have previously shown support for casinos. Will these resort casinos be a boon to Florida's tourism and its broader economy or will they create new problems and tarnish the state's image?
Bernie Navarro
president, Latin Builders Association

The Latin Builders Association’s decision to support the proposed Destination Resorts Act, which would allow for construction of three large destination resort casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, will fulfill the immediate need for local jobs in South Florida.


It is no surprise to our community that our 750-member businesses are starved for work. Saying times have been tough does not even begin to describe the hardship the construction industry has undergone during the last few years.


However, the potential jobs impact of this legislation was not the only point of consideration for Latin Builders Association (LBA) leadership when we decided to support this legislation. We met with stakeholders across the board -- from the Archdiocese of Miami and sponsoring lawmakers, to economic experts and business organizations. In the end, we came to believe the adoption of the proposed Destination Resort Act is a smart decision and one that is in the best interests of Florida and the South Florida region. 


If passed, the legislation requires each destination resort casino to invest at least $2 billion each in the construction and development of their complexes. This would produce an infusion of more than $6 billion into Florida’s economy, rapidly creating tens of thousands of jobs, expanding our tax base, and helping our leadership to avoid more budget cuts in areas like education and healthcare. 


While in the past the LBA has consistently opposed gambling legislation, in this case we feel our leaders in Tallahassee would be committing legislative malpractice should they fail to enact the Destination Resort Act. After all, the creation of 100,000 private-sector jobs and strict regulation of the gaming industry are both laudable goals, and voters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties have expressed overwhelming support for expanded gaming in the past.


Florida currently is the fourth largest gaming state in the nation, but the type of gaming we currently have is the wrong type. This is Florida’s chance to reform gaming – to stop the local predatory operations and the recycled revenue streams that are not helping our state. 


If this legislation is passed, members of the Latin Builders Association and many other state organizations will have a chance to put paychecks in the hands of thousands of hard-working Floridians. Now it is time for our state senators and representatives to lead the way and create a better future for Florida by supporting the Destination Resorts Act. 


Bernie Navarro is the president of the Latin Builders Association. Learn more about the organization at  http://www.LBAorg.com

Bill Bunkley
government affairs consultant, Florida Baptist Convention

Florida Baptists have a long and steadfast record of opposing gambling. The very first Southern Baptist Convention resolution opposing gambling dates back to 1890 and it warned then “that gambling in all its forms is demoralizing to our people.”

Fast forward to 2011 and the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling is reporting that problem gamblers are still with us and growing in numbers right here in the sunshine and family vacation destination of the world.

Some in the Florida Legislature are proposing to sell Florida out to the highest bidder, based on recent testimony in a Senate committee.

There has not been a recent round of any form of gambling expansion where the spin by proponents has not misled the public by stating that, if we make this move or that move, we will contain or reduce gambling in our state. Here they go again.

Recall when we were told that if we adopted the Seminole Indian Compact it would contain the state’s gambling to their existing tribal locations? What happened to that pledge by pro-gambling legislators?

These out-of-state groups interested in locating in Florida the largest destination casino complexes in the entire world are spending unknown millions of dollars to get what they want. It’s a bold move, and just maybe they have overreached.

Others have quietly flouted Florida’s laws and opened illegal Internet gambling operations, or sweepstakes cafes. They are predatory in nature, with many strategically located in the poorest neighborhoods to lure those who can least afford gambling losses.

For all the talk by some legislators that Tallahassee isn’t interested in seeing our state become another Las Vegas or Atlantic City, they propose to create a huge Department of Gaming Control, almost a mirror image of what Nevada and New Jersey already have.

Be not mistaken: This is a brand new round of doubletalk.

If left unchecked, this tidal wave of gambling expansion will leave in its wake pain and destruction in the lives of countless people, especially the children, the poor, and the elderly. And Florida is slowly becoming a predator itself, rather than a protector of its constituents.

It is time to stop this craziness. It’s a large task, as this may be a David and Goliath matchup. The money thrown to support this expansion in Tallahassee can’t be matched. It will be all the people of Florida, not just people of faith, who must let their voices be heard by Florida legislators.

Bill Bunkley is the legislative consultant to the Florida Baptist Convention.

Brad Swanson
Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, Florida Chamber of Commerce

Like a kid in a candy store, out-of-state investors and foreign-based companies are betting that Floridians can be lured by the sweet talk of a royal flush at the risk of Florida’s long-term economic future. That’s because they want to build the largest casino on the face of the planet in Florida. 

Proponents boast new jobs and tax revenues, but the sobering truth is that the only guaranteed winners in this questionable game of craps with Florida’s future would be foreign and out-of-state casino owners who will surly reap massive profits at the expense of Florida’s jobs and futures. The casualties include time-honored small and large businesses that likely will go out of business and lay off Floridians.

In this tough national economy, working Floridians are courageously confronting the difficult daily challenge of taking care of their families. The unemployed Floridians who earnestly want to work are applying for jobs and hoping they will find a way to take care of their families. Florida deserves a strong, smart, strategic plan to build a growing and diverse economy and the Florida Chamber is pleased to continue its work toward creating the business climate needed to attract knowledge-based jobs and companies to Florida.
We’ve made significant progress toward building a great future.  Florida’s education system is now ranked in the Top 5 by Education Weekly. Major research institutes like Scripps, Torrey Pines, SRI and Burnham are pioneering biomedical breakthroughs from their Florida-based offices. The Port of Miami is undergoing transformation to compete for the larger, post-Panamax ships that will soon come through the expanded Panama Canal. And 16 Fortune 500 companies from diverse industries call Florida “home.”
Las Vegas-style casino gambling won’t solve our state’s short-term economic challenges – and it won’t build a stronger foundation for our economic future.
Do we want Florida to be more like Vegas? Nevada has the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S. – nearly 400 percent that of Florida. Nevada also has America’s highest unemployment rate -- nearly 30 percent higher than Florida’s. So, if casino gambling is so good for long-term economic growth, why are there no Fortune 500 companies, other than three giant casino companies, headquartered in Nevada?
Florida can do much better than risking its economy and future on the expansion of Vegas-style casino gambling. The Florida Chamber will ask Florida’s leaders to agree with our plan to protect Florida’s future. We will ask them to agree that what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas.
Brad Swanson is leading the Florida Chamber’s coalition against expanded casino gambling and can be reached at [email protected]
James E. Billie
chairman, Seminole Tribe of Florida

The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which operates seven gaming casinos on federal trust lands in Florida under an exclusive Compact Agreement with the state, strongly opposes the “destination resorts” casino bill currently before the Florida Legislature.

This Compact, in accordance with the regulations of the National Indian Gaming Commission of the U.S. Department of the Interior, grants the Seminole Tribe of Florida the exclusive right to operate Vegas-style slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, plus the exclusive right to offer banked card games such as blackjack and baccarat at five of the Tribe’s gaming facilities in Florida, in exchange for revenue sharing with the state.  The exclusivity and related revenue-sharing provisions are key components of the Compact.

For 20 years, the Seminole Tribe tried to negotiate a gaming compact with the State of Florida.  Our attempts were rebuffed for years.  Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist finally broke the logjam, negotiating a compact in 2007 that became law in early 2008 after being approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior.  A second compact was negotiated by the Seminole Tribe and Gov. Crist in 2010 and approved by the Florida Legislature and the federal government.

The Seminole Tribe has made on-time monthly payments to the state since the original compact became law in 2008.  In December, the Tribe will surpass a half billion dollars in revenue-sharing paid to the State of Florida.  The Dec. 15 automatic payment will push the total to $502.9 million.  These are real dollars that have helped to fund the state budget, including millions of dollars for the education of Florida’s children.  This money is in lieu of tax dollars that Florida’s residents and businesses have not been forced to pay.

The Seminole Tribe is also hiring 800 more employees at our Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, where a $150 million expansion opens in early 2012.  Hundreds more are being hired in Tampa, where an expansion is also underway at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.   The Tribe presently employs more than 13,000 people in Florida.  The economic impact of Seminole Gaming to the State of Florida continues to grow; the Tribe is proud to help expand the Florida economy and increase jobs.

The ink was barely dry in the latest Compact when reports surfaced of a new push for destination resort casinos in Florida.  Passage of such a bill by the Florida Legislature would jeopardize not only the Seminole Compact and the millions of dollars it generates for the state, but it would also threaten thousands of jobs.

We will vigorously oppose any attack on our Compact with the state.  We urge Florida legislators to step forward in support of our Compact and refuse to support any legislation that violates Florida’s contractual agreements with the Seminole Tribe.

James E. Billie is chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.  


Casino houses of hope are built on the sand, generating prosperity that is fleeting as a Florida rain storm. You can bet the long term prospects are less inviting---look at Vegas, empty homes, skyrocketing crime, the "cha-jing" of the slots gone silent.

Wait a minute! I’ve seen this movie before, “Casino Jack”, starring Kevin Spacey as Jack Abramoff, the Super Lobbyist. Now the story is going for the sequel, “The Sunshine State Cabal”. The character of Ralph Reed is now being played by Bill Bunkley and John Stemberger, the easily manipulated and in on the deal concerned religious conservatives. Of course the names of the Indian Tribes have been changed, but not the motivation. They paid for their politicians and policy and dammit, they want them to stay bought, those palefaces speak with forked tongue. Besides, who wants competition from slimey“store-front” casinos who have not paid the dues (taxes?) and price of admission James Billie had to. Calling Rep. Scott Plakon, your scene is coming up and can we find out what law firm Tom Feeney is working for? Associated Industries of Florida has assumed the role of Grover Norquist, and Americans for Tax Reform by issuing reports and support for jobs, economic prosperity and overall golden rewards for expanded gaming.

The plot takes a good twist in “The Sunshine State Cabal” in that the main political figure is in the executive branch this time, played by Gov. Rick Scott. In the original, it was played by that wily rascal and hip swinger from Dancing with the Stars, disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom Delay. Gov. Rick Scott is going at his part with gusto and verve, he had his private plane make an extra unannounced stop in Las Vegas on his way to the a Republican Governors Conference last November, to meet in private with Sheldon Adelson a wealthy casino operator who has his eye on expanding his empire, maybe even in Florida. Now of course we have no way of knowing what was discussed during this meeting because, presto bango, all of Gov. Rick Scott’s emails magically disappeared instead of being retained according to Florida law. Can we get AG Pam Bondi to investigate this? NO. OOOPS! We have just got to get her more scenes.

A good actor knows that having strong co-stars is important, so after the cat was let out of the bag about his unannounced meeting, Gov. Rick Scott decided to walk the red carpet with Sheldon Adelson at the RPOF P5 Presidential Debate. Of course Gov. Rick Scott dutifully played coy, saying he did not want Florida to have the budget tied to gaming income. What a great line, well delivered ambiguity. Especially coming from a guy who told the Florida Baptist Witness he opposed expanded gaming, not once but twice! Conflict in movie making is great, and this screenplay just writes itself. This is just a first draft, as time goes on this will be a doozy!

I think you are starting to get the gist of this story dear fellow Floridians. We are getting played, and all the world is a stage.

Semper fi,
Old Gimlet Eye

I can’t help thinking about Frank Sinatra belting, “I’ve heard that song before” when it comes to casinos.

It was years ago when gubernatorial candidates championed “no extension of legalized gambling” if elected. That was when we had horse and dog tracks as well as jai-alai. Now we have casinos at those venues, and at Indian establishments, plus the lottery.

I believe society would be better served if we had “no extension of legalized drinking.” Oh, wait, we tried that decades ago. Prohibition!

Just like no one forces us to drink at bars, no one forces individuals to gamble at casinos or buy a lottery ticket at the corner store.

At least new casinos will produce what our congresspeople can’t: jobs and revenue.

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by Dr. Radut.