Monday, December 18, 2017
Politics

Florida lawmakers get an earful on gambling

Florida legislators came to the heart of the state's gambling country in Coconut Creek on Wednesday and heard from a packed house of well-organized — and tame — speakers who urged lawmakers to protect the incumbent industries as they consider expanding gambling in Florida.

"I am not a fan of destination resorts,'' said Joy Cooper, mayor of Hallandale Beach, one of about 600 people who attended the three-hour hearing on Wednesday. "Our pari-mutuels have already invested time, effort and supported local businesses and paid local taxes.''

The Senate Gaming Committee heard public testimony at Broward College's north campus as it prepares legislation to rewrite the state's gambling laws and again consider whether to allow for the arrival of so-called destination resort casinos in Miami Dade and Broward.

"Any attempt to expand new casinos in our area should encourage and incentivize the participants who have a track record,'' said Brian Johnson of Fort Lauderdale. "If that sounds like a shameless plug, well, it is."

It was the first of four hearings as the Senate takes the lead on an ambitious rewrite of the gambling laws. But Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, chairman of the committee, said that while he is leaning towards the creation of a gaming commission, he is not prepared to say if it will include expanded gambling. Instead, he said, his focus is to eliminate inconsistencies in the law and "replace the current makeshift structure with a comprehensive statewide approach to gaming policy."

That threatens Florida's incumbent pari-mutuel industries, which have lobbied legislators for decades to carve out the state's current tangled regulatory scheme. It also equates to an opening for the powerful mega casinos, which have already identified locations in Miami Dade and Broward to locate a resort casino.

The hearing comes on the heels of a consultant's report commissioned by the state House and Senate that slapped the Legislature and the state for being asleep at the switch when it comes to regulating gambling in Florida.

"The lack of a defining gaming policy has not limited the growth of gaming,'' said Michael Pollock, chairman of Spectrum Gaming, which prepared the report, at a House meeting earlier this month. "The question is, will the legislature guide future of gaming or be guided by it."

The hearing in Coconut Creek was well scripted by the interest groups, with signs proclaiming "No Casinos" and "Destinations Now!" lining the entryway. Richter divided the speakers into subject areas, from economic impact to social impacts and adult arcades. Each speaker was given a two-minute limit.

Ken McAvoy, senior vice president of Reed Exhibitions of Norwalk, Conn., came prepared to testify about the impact of operating destination resort casinos in South Florida on Orlando's convention trade. But he ran out of time.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, offered an assist. He asked what impact destination resort casinos would have on Central Florida's theme parks.

"The impact it's going to have on Orlando is nil. You're talking about new business, not cannibalizing business," McAvoy replied, nothing that South Florida will draw international visitors who spend more than American tourists.

The panel heard from animal advocates about how they want to see lawmakers allow dog track owners to operate slot machines and card rooms without dog racing. They heard from Palm Beach County business leaders asking to bring slot machines to the dog track there. They heard from horse trainers and breeders urging them to preserve and strengthen the state's thoroughbred and quarter horse racing industry. And they heard from therapists and compulsive gamblers about the need to restore funds for treatment.

"All I wanted to do is go to that casino,'' said Molly Simpson of Boca Raton as she spoke about her 17-year gambling addiction. "I never cared about family… It's an insidious disease."

Uberto Mondolfi, a psychotherapist from Miami Beach, told the committee that he works with addicted gamblers in Florida who are trapped by a system that offers no help for treatment.

"We need programs for early detection for those at risk,'' he said. "Sadly, compulsive gamblers when they get to my office, they're broke. …They come to me and they have no way of paying for treatment."

Michael Wolf, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer for the adult arcade industry, urged the Legislature to revisit its ban on Internet Cafes, which "closed down legitimate amusement arcades for no good reason."

Steve DeGrave, an arcade owner from Key West, also chastised lawmakers. "You put me out of business,'' he said. "I don't pay my rent. I don't pay my taxes. I don't have any income."

The most vocal organized effort, however, came from the animal rights supporters who urged the committee to pass a so-called decoupling bill that allows dog tracks to stop racing dogs but continue to operate other forms of gaming.

"Being housed in a small cage for 20-23 hours a day is a life that no one should have to endure,'' said Michele Lazarow, a Hallandale Beach city commissioner. "Do you allow your dog to be treated that way?...It seems that forcing a business to race is not practical. It's time to move away from this archaic thinking into the 21st Century."

Inigo Gorostola, second generation jai alai player from Miami, urged the committee to preserve his dying sport by allowing slot machines only if linked to well-regulated jai alai games. "We don't want jai alai to disappear,'' he said.

The next hearing will be Oct. 30 in Lakeland with hearings in Jacksonville and Pensacola to follow.

Comments
National security strategy plan paints China, Russia as U.S. competitors

National security strategy plan paints China, Russia as U.S. competitors

WASHINGTON — A new U.S. national security strategy plan presents China and Russia as competitors that want to realign global power in their interests, potentially threatening the United States, Trump administration officials said Sunday.President Don...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Trump says he isn’t considering firing Mueller

Trump says he isn’t considering firing Mueller

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Sunday that he is not considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller even as his administration was again forced to grapple with the growing Russia inquiry that has shadowed the White House for much of his ...
Published: 12/17/17
Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

WASHINGTON — Closing in on the first major legislative achievement of his term, President Donald Trump on Saturday defended the Republican tax cut as a good deal for the middle class while boldly suggesting it could lead to explosive economic growth....
Published: 12/16/17
Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Sometime soon, members of the Florida House will be asked to consider a solution for bullying in public schools. It’s a dubious idea based on the premise that students should flee their tormenters, and use voucher funds to attend a private school of ...
Published: 12/16/17
CDC gets list of forbidden words: ‘fetus,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘evidence-based’

CDC gets list of forbidden words: ‘fetus,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘evidence-based’

Trump administration officials are forbidding officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases - including "fetus" and "transgender" - in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.Polic...
Published: 12/16/17
Female congressional candidate leaves race after sexual harassment allegations resurface

Female congressional candidate leaves race after sexual harassment allegations resurface

A Democratic candidate hoping to flip a hotly contested congressional seat in Kansas has dropped out of the race after allegations that she sexually harassed a male subordinate resurfaced amid her campaign.Andrea Ramsey, 57, who was running to unseat...
Published: 12/16/17
Highlights of GOP compromise bill to overhaul tax code

Highlights of GOP compromise bill to overhaul tax code

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress have blended separate tax bills passed by the House and Senate into compromise legislation that seeks to achieve a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s tax code. GOP leaders are looking toward passage of the final pa...
Published: 12/15/17
Updated: 12/16/17
With Rubio, Corker back on board, GOP speeds ahead with tax plan

With Rubio, Corker back on board, GOP speeds ahead with tax plan

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers on Friday secured enough votes to pass the most sweeping tax overhaul in decades, putting them on the cusp of their first significant legislative victory this year as party leaders geared up to pass a $1.5 trillion t...
Published: 12/15/17
Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

TAMPA — Nearly 600,000 more people will live in Hillsborough County by 2040, and if elected officials and county planners don’t take bold steps now, the population boom will turn the county into the soulless sprawl of Anywhere, U.S.A.That’s the messa...
Published: 12/15/17
Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

WASHINGTON — America’s top diplomat stepped back Friday from his offer of unconditional talks with North Korea, telling world powers that the nuclear-armed nation must earn the right to negotiate with the United States. Secretary of State Rex Tillers...
Published: 12/15/17