In 2010, Florida voters elected state leaders who would champion free market principles that would create new jobs. The state Legislature has responded to the voters with the potential introduction of destination resorts to Florida. If the proposed legislation (SB 710, HB 487) is signed into law, it would lead to billions of dollars in new capital invested in Florida, attract hundreds of thousands of new convention and expo visitors from around the world and create thousands of new jobs for Floridians.
Gaming has long been a successful part of Florida's economic landscape. However, it now continues to expand without any strategic vision and with minimal regulatory oversight. The proposed legislation correctly seeks to establish a gaming commission and permitting process that will ensure Florida's gaming industry attracts the right type of operators to invest in Florida's long-term economic growth.
As proponents for stronger gaming oversight and the cautious introduction of destination resorts, we believe a spirited debate benefits everyone. We respectfully disagree with the antigaming arguments that this legislation irresponsibly expands gaming and threatens existing Florida businesses.
Antigaming special interests fervently oppose any destination resort, anywhere in Florida, because, they say, they want to stop the expansion of gaming. Oddly, they're silent on the expansion of the state lottery, slot machines at racetracks and Florida's prolific expansion of Internet sweepstakes cafes, which are unregulated and spreading throughout the state. All of these have made Florida one of the largest gaming states in the nation.
The explosion of Internet cafes and three upcoming county referendums seeking more slot machines at racetracks are strong indications that gaming is already expanding in Florida.
The state's current gaming model mostly recycles local dollars collected from Florida residents, which doesn't bolster economic development. The formula for successful economic growth begins with the infusion of new capital and new visitors to Florida, which the proposed gaming legislation will do.
Florida has an unemployment rate above 10 percent and the state needs new economic opportunities that bring new visitors with new dollars that create new jobs. There aren't that many out-of-state visitors arriving at Tampa International Airport with the purpose of visiting a Tampa Bay tribal casino or racetrack.
A Las Vegas Sands destination resort meets Florida's need for billions of investment capital, attracting hundreds of thousands of new visitors and creating thousands of new, quality jobs.
These are not promises, but examples of a proven Sands integrated convention business model.
Sands is credited with the creation of the destination integrated resort model. It began in 1989 when chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson purchased the Sands Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and constructed the 1.2 million-square-foot Sands Expo Center, the only privately owned and operated convention center in the United States.
Sands currently manages approximately 2.3 million square feet of state-of-the-art exhibition and meeting facilities that accommodate large-scale conventions and trade shows attracting nearly 1 million convention attendees each year. The convention facilities are supported with on-site high-end celebrity restaurants, retail, gaming and entertainment.
In a Sands destination resort, gaming is just one of the many amenities enjoyed by our convention attendees and exhibitors. That is why we support legislation limiting the gaming space to just 10 percent of the resort's total square footage.
Critics allege destination resorts will threaten local businesses. This is false. Sands integrates itself into the community versus imposing upon it. An example would be the successful integration of our Sands Bethlehem Resort in Pennsylvania. We worked closely with community leaders and business groups to build an integrated resort that complemented and revitalized the local community.
Sands cannot succeed without an existing infrastructure of local businesses. We literally spend millions in local communities for the services of thousands of small businesses around the world.
Florida is a great state in which to live, work and play. We applaud Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature for weighing the economic benefits of the proposed legislation. We respect the legislative process and we'll work with stakeholders to ensure a cautious, go-slow approach that achieves Florida's economic priorities.
Andy Abboud is vice president of government relations and community development at Las Vegas Sands Corp.