TALLAHASSEE — The full-throttle push to bring casino gambling to South Florida has prompted the head of the No Casinos political committee to resurrect his organization to oppose expanded gambling in Florida.
John Sowinski, an Orlando public relations consultant and president of No Casinos Inc., activated the dormant organization late last week as legislators announced they are drafting a bill to offer three Las Vegas-style casino licenses in Miami-Dade and Broward as part of a push to bring resort-style casinos to Florida.
The antigambling group raised $1.5 million in 1994 and successfully fought an attempt to amend the Constitution that year to bring casinos to Florida. It did not succeed in persuading Florida voters to reject the constitutional amendment to allow slot machine gaming at parimutuels in 2004. It was approved 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent.
This year, No Casinos will partner with law enforcement, faith-based organizations and business groups to oppose the legislation, Sowinski said. Traditionally, Orlando's theme parks, along with Central Florida business organizations, have been a big opponent to the expansion of gambling in Florida.
"This is a different battle, in that it's in the Legislature,'' Sowinski said. "But the only chance it has to pass is if people in Tallahassee think they can do it in the dark of night — without the public paying attention. Our goal is to make sure it gets attention.''
Sowinski said his group will appeal to legislators of both parties.
"We will remind Republicans who count on the votes of conservative Republicans that you can't be pro-families and pro-gambling at the same time," he said. "And we'll remind Democrats, who count on votes of those who want to protect the most vulnerable, that you can't be for the less fortunate and for expanded gambling at the same time."
Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, one of the sponsors of the casino legislation, said he is not surprised at the re-emergence of No Casinos.
"I did anticipate an organized opposition to the bill by traditional opponents to casino gaming, possibly funded by entities — either in-state or out-of-state — that don't want to see an expansion of high-end gaming in Florida," he said. "I look forward to the debate."
Also opposed to the effort is the parimutuel industry with its 26 horse and dog tracks and jai-alai frontons throughout the state, as well as the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has the only sanctioned casino parlors in the state. Despite the broader opposition, No Casinos will not accept money from gambling interests, Sowinski said.
"We know there is the potential to leave money on the table, but our policy is we're ideologically opposed to gambling money," he said.
In addition to Sowinski, the group is headed by Paul Seago of the Apopka Chamber of Commerce — who worked on the 2004 effort — and Adam McKinnon, whose grandmother is former U.S. Sen. Paula Hawkins, a longtime gambling opponent.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.