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Robert Trigaux

Showdown looms in Florida gambling as new players promise jobs to flagging state economy




Indian gaming may face new competition if Las Vegas interests push into the state. (Photo: Daniel Wallace, St. Petersburg Times.)

Wake up and good morning. Spurred on by Florida's sagging economy, it looks like a showdown is looming in the state's gaming business. It boils down to this. Will Florida endorse behemoth Las Vegas-style casinos -- assuming they will provide jobs and spur the area economy? Will the Seminole Tribe respond by insisting the state deal with them for gaming, or seek to change its tax deal with the state? And will voters, in a time of weakness, accept a much heavier emphasis on gambling in South Florida that in a better economic period would never be considered?

An interesting South Florida Sun Sentinel story lays out some of the options:

Las Vegas Sands, one of several companies interested in building in South Florida, says it can make a $2 billion to $4 billion investment in Florida and create 8,000 to 16,000 direct jobs. The company has already begun scouting potential resort sites in the Miami area. And another newcomer to Florida, Genting, which has already purchased bayfront property (formerly occupied by the Miami Herald) in Miami that it hopes to make into a casino, has made similar promises as it lobbies the state's lawmakers.

* Two South Florida lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on proposed legislation to bring three huge gambling resorts to Broward and Miami-Dade counties. While the plan for destination casinos is shaky in Tallahassee, but top political leaders aren't shouting it down yet. Gov. Rick Scott has remained vague, saying only he doesn't want the state budget to be reliant on gaming dollars. House Speaker Dean Cannon, who has previously opposed gaming expansion, has been notably quiet. Senate President Mike Haridopolos has said his chamber would give any destination plan a careful listen and then vote on it. "If someone's interested in investing $2 billion in the state of Florida, I think we're probably going to listen," Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, told the Sun Sentinel.

Walt Disney World —arguably the single most influential private enterprise in the state — is "dead-set" against gambling expansion as potentially harmful to the state's family-friendly image. And history shows that when the Mouse speaks, politicians in Tallahassee listen, the story notes. (The new Legoland theme park opening this Saturday probably is not thrilled, either.)

* And what of the Seminole Tribe, whose Hard Rock-themed gambling sites are the current core of Florida's gambling industry and deliver millions of dollars in state revenue? In 2010, the tribe signed a 20-year compact with the state that granted the tribe exclusive rights to operate Vegas-style slot machines outside of South Florida, plus the right to operate banked card games such as blackjack and baccarat at five of its seven facilities. Those games are not allowed at the existing pari-mutuels. In 2015, the tribe and state can renegotiate the compact's terms, but tribe officials have warned that if companies like Sands or Genting, which would operate full-blown casinos with card tables and slot machines, open before the five-year point, the tribe could void the compact and the state would have to forfeit a portion of the money it's supposed to be paid.

Lots of powerful interests and money are heading for a collision.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times

[Last modified: Monday, October 10, 2011 7:08am]


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