Florida Casinos Back on Front Burner

When Florida lawmakers reconvene in March, they are likely to pick up an old and divisive issue: an expansion of casino gaming in the Sunshine State. State Senate President Don Gaetz will likely propose a constitutional amendment permitting new casinos.

Florida Casinos Back on Front Burner

Change could threaten a sure thing: the Seminole pact

This year Florida legislators will once again take up the hot-button issue of expanded gaming in the state.

According to the Bradenton Herald, when lawmakers reconvene in March, State Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford will likely begin a new push for a constitutional amendment that would allow destination-style resorts but also possibly imperil the lucrative Seminole gaming compact, which expires next year. Florida has received nearly $1.5 billion in revenue from the Seminoles over the life of the compact.

Proponents of an expansion hope for a 2014 referendum that would change give local governments the right to choose if they want more gambling.

“I think we have seen gaming creep. The legislature has not had its hands on the wheel when it comes the gaming laws of the state of Florida,” Weatherford said. “The idea I’m warming up to, which I think makes a lot of sense, is to give the power back to the people when it comes to gaming expansion.”

As the Herald commented, however, “One of the many dangers in keeping the decisions local is a higher probability of corruption. Florida already ranks No. 1 in the country with the most government officials arrested for illegal abuse of their offices.”

An expansion of gaming is sure to be challenged by heavyweights including the Walt Disney Company and the state chamber of commerce, both of which say casinos would tar the state’s family-friendly image.

Not to mention the electorate. Last fall, Spectrum Gaming Group of New Jersey presented its gaming impact study, which revealed that even among Florida residents who favor casinos, they “wouldn’t want to live near one.”

It could be hard to marshal the 60 percent vote required to amend the constitution, reports the Orlando Sentinel. A 2004 amendment allowing Miami-Dade and Broward counties to have local referendums on slot machines, before a supermajority became mandatory, won just 50.8 percent of voter support.

Meanwhile a new anti-casino film, Pushing Luck, sponsored by the Orlando-based NoCasinos.org, will make its debut in Tallahassee on January 15. The half-hour documentary examines “the question of whether government’s policy of sponsoring casinos has failed” and reviews efforts to bring Las Vegas-style destination casinos to Miami. Legislators, legislatives aides and members of the Tallahassee news media have been invited to the film’s premiere.

Ryan Houck of the production company Consensus Communications, said, “Our crew traveled to Atlantic City, Chicago, Miami and Massachusetts to interview some of the nation’s leading experts on gambling policy, history, social side-effects and economic consequences. We talked with folks who’ve had a front-row seat to the broken promises in Atlantic City and who have watched firsthand as casino bosses rehashed the very same promises in their attempts to hoodwink the people of Florida.”

Also in Florida, radio personality Mobile Mike has filed a $250 million lawsuit against the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Mobile Mike, his legal name,  alleges the Seminoles breached a contract with his advertising firm, MMMG LLC, that was to pay him $100,000 a month. Instead, the suit said, the tribe shifted its advertising contract to Sally Tommie, a Seminole tribe member who owns Redline Media Group.

Said Mobile Mike, “I’m not the first one who got ripped off by the tribe. If you do business with the Seminole tribe and the Hard Rock resort, you take a real chance. They hide behind sovereign immunity, their tax-exempt status and the fact they’re a minority owned business. They don’t have the interest of the public at heart.”

Mobile Mike’s attorney Gary Phillips said the tribe “devastated and turned Mobile Mike’s life upside down. I believe the tribe stole Mike’s knowledge, ideas and operation of advertising so that they could benefit from it for themselves.”

Seminole tribe spokesman Gary Bitner said, “We don’t comment on legal issues.”