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Florida has long bet big on gambling

Florida’s first Powerball drawing last week raised $3.5-million for the state’s schools.

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Florida’s first Powerball drawing last week raised $3.5-million for the state’s schools.

Gambling our way out of hard times is nothing new.

Greyhounds, thoroughbreds and cesta-wielding Basques fueled the Florida dream during the 1920s boom. They weren't sanctioned, but they weren't exactly illegal either. The courts hadn't yet sorted it out.

Then in 1931, a vicious hurricane, housing market collapse and the Great Depression persuaded a revenue-starved Legislature to cash in. No sense in letting track and fronton owners scoop up all the riches. Let's allow the games and tax sin.

In 1987, people yearning for better schools brought the numbers game to convenience stores. Mobsters in Tampa and Miami made fortunes on bolita for decades. Why not a state lottery?

Now comes Powerball, with jackpots to entice an oil sheik. With state officials hoping it can revitalize flagging lottery sales, last week's kickoff drawing raised $3.5-million for schools.

One drawback to gambling as a tax generator is that dollars spent here diminish what gets spent elsewhere. In its heyday, parimutuel gambling provided almost 20 percent of state revenues. But the lottery, Indian gaming and out-of-state casinos killed it. The cost of regulating horse and dog tracks now eats up most of the tax money gained.

Lottery sales dwindle as casino gambling expands. Slot machines installed at just three parimutuel outlets in Broward and Miami-Dade counties attracted $3-billion in wagers last year, compared with $4-billion spent on all lottery games combined.

Here's a rundown of legal gambling in Florida and how it affects state coffers.

Money bet Paid out Tax revenue
Florida Lottery (2008) $4.2-billion (Scratch-off: $2.4-billion, Lotto: $779-million, all other games: $1-billion) About $2.1-billion (50 percent) About $2.1-billion
Slot machines (In three Broward and Miami-Dade parimutuel outlets, FY 2007-08) $3-billion $2.767-billion (91.5 percent) $123-million
Horse racing $869-million (FY 2007-08) $681-million (78.5 percent) $11.9-million
Dog racing $406-million (FY 2007-08) $309-million (76.1 percent) $10.5-million
Card rooms (At parimutuel outlets, FY 2007-08) About $1-billion Pay out unavailable, but house take from pots was $91-million. $9.1-million
Jai alai (FY 2007-08) * Money bet: $69-million * Paid out: $51-million (73.9 percent) * Tax and fee revenue: $559,880

Florida misses out on these gambling dollars

Gov. Charlie Crist wants to seal an agreement with Indian casinos to allow table games and slot machines in exchange for a slice of the profits. Whether Florida can legally prevent them is open to debate. But clearly, many Floridians love casinos.

Indian gaming (Eight casinos, 2007)

Total bet: Not public

Estimated difference between bets and payouts: $1.6-billion

Gambling in Mississippi

Visits from Floridian gamblers: 3.1-million (FY 2007-08)

Sources: Florida Lottery Commission; Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation; Mississippi Gaming Commission; Indian Gaming Industry Report (2008-09) by Alan Meister, Mark Dunbar, adjunct law professor at Florida State University

Florida has long bet big on gambling 01/11/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 12, 2009 10:28am]

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