Florida Considers Casino Gambling

Florida lawmakers gave their approval to a first vote of a state Senate bill proposing new mammoth resort-style casinos in Florida that could match the size of Las Vegas casinos, it was reported by NBC Miami and The Florida Current.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee voted 7-3 in favor of the amended bill on Monday, one day prior to the session’s official opening. But the bill is facing major obstacles before it can make its way to the Legislature.

The revised bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, calls for three enormous casinos to be opened in the Sunshine State. The bill’s revisions include prohibiting new permits and allowing existing pari-mutuels to run real money gambling such as blackjack casino games and craps, but also would require some to incur huge costs to make improvements to their current facilities. The measure could prove lucrative for certain state sectors such as Palm Beach County, which would be required to invest $2 billion to meet specific qualifications.

Supporters of the bill believe casinos would generate much-needed revenue by attracting thousands of tourists and high-rollers, thereby creating an abundance of jobs without effecting existing businesses. Critics of the plan have concerns about Florida’s reputation as a family-friendly tourist destination being destroyed by casino gambling.

“We are doing things in such a piecemeal fashion, said Robert Jarvis, a Nova Southeastern law professor who believes the bill’s introduction is a bit premature. “We should be asking the question, ’What kind of gambling do we want in Florida? Do we want local gambling? Do we want gambling only on Indian reservations? Do we want destination resort casinos?’ We need to have a much bigger discussion,” he said.

Ultimately, the final say in the matter may come down to a vote by Florida residents. One of the current bill’s provisions requires voters to give their approval to a referendum that would permit the resort casinos to be built.

“I think it’s important for the people to determine what’s in their communities,” said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, who voted in favor of the measure despite qualms regarding pari-mutuel parity and the possibility of South Florida’s gambling market becoming oversaturated. Rich’s hesitation in voting for approval of the bill was put at ease as long as her constituency has a say on the issue.

Challenges facing the bill’s passage include the fact that the House has had no debates or discussions concerning the proposal. However, the House Business and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee is expected to take up the issue soon. Also, the legislation must go before the Senate Rules Committee whose chairman, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, was one of the three lawmakers who voted against the bill on Monday. Thrasher ardently opposes the legislation and would not confirm whether the bill would be approved by his committee.

“You’d have to ask the members of the committee, not me. I’m just one member,” Thrasher said. “Once it goes to the [Senate] Budget Committee, I’m sure it’ll change some more. If it passes out of there then it’ll come to our committee.”