TALLAHASSEE — The hidden costs of expanded gambling in Florida include more compulsive gambling, increased crime and a government addicted to revenue generated by people's losses, a former House speaker and an economics professor warned lawmakers Friday.
Former House Speaker Marco Rubio, a U.S. Senate candidate, joined leaders of the Christian Coalition and the Florida Baptist Convention at a news conference to condemn legislators for considering allowing more gambling in the state.
"There is a real moral issue with asking government to expand its operations to be increasingly dependent on an activity we should be discouraging, not encouraging," said Rubio, a Republican from Miami.
He and Dennis Baxley, a former Ocala legislator who now is director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, acknowledged the state's difficulties trying to provide sufficient government services while facing a $3 billion budget hole but warned that relying on gambling was dangerous.
For the state to collect a projected $1 billion in revenue from gambling, Baxley said, gamblers would have to lose $7 billion.
"Some things you just don't do, no matter how broke you are," he said.
The Florida House is pushing a plan to allow the governor to enter into a gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that would allow the tribe to continue offering Las Vegas-style slot machines but halt blackjack and other house-banked card games.
A Senate committee this week passed a bill that takes gambling to the other extreme, giving the tribe full-fledged casinos, with games like roulette and craps. South Florida racinos would get blackjack. All other horse and dog tracks around the state would be allowed to operate video slot machines, which pit players against each other.
The House committee charged with writing the gambling bills heard Friday from a Baylor University economics professor and antigambling advocate Earl Grinols, who testified that if Florida increases its gambling presence, it will see an increase in crime.
He said that half of all gambling revenue gleaned by casinos operations, particularly slot machines, is generated by problem or pathological gamblers.
Grinols cited anecdotal examples of compulsive gamblers who committed suicide, ruined their family's finances or committed felony crimes because of gambling addictions.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.