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More on Florida’s Potential Destination Casino Resorts

8 March 2011 by admin

As if we have not heard enough about the potential gambling action in Florida, here is some more. It is now official. Senator Dennis Jones and Senator Maria Sachs have filed legislation for the allowance of not three like the world was originally told, but five destination casino resorts to be built in Florida. It appears that Florida is gearing up for another battle over land casinos.

The proposed bill will allow casino groups to make bids to build in Florida. Along with their plans, each casino group would have to pay a licensing fee of $50 million and a $1 million application fee. The licensing fee would be refundable should a casino group not be selected, but the application fee would not be refundable. Of that money, 95% would go into the state’s general fund while the remaining 5%–5%!—would be split between the state education fund and the agency that would market the destination casino resorts. And I will be honest, 2.5% given over to education? I thought our children’s education was worth more…

That aside, other points on the legislation would be the creation of a seven member commission chosen by the Governor of Florida and approved by the Florida Senate. That commission would serve to regulate non-Tribal casino gambling.

And make no doubt that the Seminoles and the pari-mutuels will fight the legislation. For one thing the Seminoles just settled their compact with the state not even a year ago. That compact gave them a five year exclusivity on table games such as blackjack, and a twenty year exclusivity on Vegas style slot machines at the cost of $1 billion paid to the state over five years. Opening destination casino resort would undermine that exclusivity thus allowing the Seminoles to cease paying fees for an exclusivity they would no longer have. Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner said, “If the legislature wants to allow in new entities, it will have to decide if it is a good tradeoff. Are they going to make enough to make up for the assured payments from the tribe?”

As for the pari-mutuel side, they also gained some benefits from the Seminole compact. They now have extended hours of operation, tax breaks and no limit poker to help keep them competitive with the Seminole casinos. And they are not happy with the legislation either. John Lockwood, who represents several pari-mutuels as a part of the Gunster law firm, said, “The recently released casino gaming legislation unfortunately ignores the long-standing pari-mutuel industry which has been a part of Florida’s history for many decades. The ultimate result of this legislation will be a new loss due to the decimation of the pari-mutuel industry and lost revenue from the Seminole compact.”

Nothing like a mutual threat to unite the Seminoles and the pari-mutuels.

While Jones and Saches are obviously sold on the legislation, other state law makers are not sold. After all there is the reputation of Florida as a family vacation destination to consider. Florida is home of famous beaches and the ever-famous Walt Disney World Resort. It would be hard to imagine planning a family vacation to see Mickey Mouse in place that is trying to be the third Las Vegas. And state law makers understand this. Former representative Dick Batchelor said, “We all know it is about money, but rather than do the right thing and set better priorities, they are going to the vice industry, and I am a pretty liberal guy. The bottom line is, ‘Is it good for Florida?’ and I would suggest it is not at all good. You give up so much of the reputation you have built up, which I do not think can be replaces with the money you make.”

Between the online poker bill that is now making its way through Florida law makers and now a move forward on the destination casino resort legislature, Florida is beginning to heat up in terms of its gambling prospects.

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