TALLAHASSEE — All three state Cabinet members oppose a controversial plan that would allow resort casinos in Florida, with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Thursday calling the idea an "insidious threat.''
Appearing at a Capitol news conference, Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi said the proposed casino legislation would lead to a broader expansion of gambling in the state. A spokeswoman for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said later that he also opposes the proposal.
"The very character of our state is at stake in this debate,'' Putnam said.
Opposition by the three Republican officials adds another element in what likely will be a huge political and lobbying fight during the 2012 legislative session about House and Senate bills that would allow up to three "destination" resort casinos in Florida.
Gov. Rick Scott has not taken a firm stance on the proposals, though he has said he doesn't want the state's budget tied too closely to gambling revenues and also expects the 2012 session to be dominated by other issues, such as redistricting.
Major business groups are split on the proposals. For example, Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson spoke in opposition during Thursday's press conference, while Associated Industries of Florida has touted the bills as a way to add tens of thousands of jobs.
Bernie Navarro, president of the pro-casinos Latin Builders Association, released a statement after the news conference saying the bills would "bring enormous employment and economic benefits to Florida that can't be ignored."
"One million Floridians are out of work including many minorities who have been hit even harder by these tough economic times,'' Navarro said. "Opportunities like this with such substantial benefits don't come around very often.''
Sponsors say the plan is aimed at allowing up to three resort casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, though it also could apply to other counties. Casino companies would have to agree to spend at least $2 billion on building and equipping the facilities, which would offer around-the-clock gambling and other amenities such as convention space and shopping.
Along with Bondi and Putnam, Thursday's news conference included representatives of anti-gambling, business and law-enforcement groups. They raised a series of concerns about the bills, such as arguing that expanded gambling would lead to more crime and threaten the state's "family friendly" tourism industry.
Bondi said allowing major casinos in South Florida would spur efforts to expand gambling in other areas. As an example, she said it could justify broadening the types of games offered at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.
"My concern with the mega-casinos in South Florida is that it does not just affect South Florida,'' Bondi said.
It is unclear what effect the Cabinet members' opposition could have on the legislative debate about the bills. Also, the Senate version of the bill appears likely to undergo changes, after members of the Regulated Industries Committee this week raised objections.
Alexis Lambert, a spokeswoman for Atwater, said his opposition stems from a broader position on gambling.
"He's not supportive of the expansion of gaming in Florida,'' Lambert said.