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A Times Editorial

Bad plan for casinos getting worse

A bad plan for casinos in Florida is getting worse. Now Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff wants to ensure every dog and horse track or jai alai fronton in the state has the ability to add slot machines, even after voters expressly chose in 2004 to limit slots to Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, will have to shed any pretense she's trying to contain gambling in Florida. She's ready to open the floodgates with her bill, and the Senate Regulated Industries Committee should just say no when it hears her revised plan Monday.

Bogdanoff's proposed rewrite of SB 710 is most notable for what it doesn't do. After weeks of suggesting she would tighten language to expressly limit three proposed destination casinos to Miami-Dade and Broward counties, she broadened it instead. She is now advocating letting any county hold a casino resort referendum, thereby potentially qualifying it to host one of the three casinos — but also granting local parimutuels the right to have slot machines, table games and possibly the lower 10 percent tax rate she's offered casinos. Bogdanoff is also willing to let any active parimutuel seek slot machines through referendum, an issue currently embroiled in the courts.

Those capitulations to the parimutuels run counter to one of her key selling points in the past: that she hoped megacasinos would undercut parimutuels and force some of them out of business. Now she is throwing the industry another lifeline. And her changes in tax rates once again upend assumptions about what kind of state revenue her plan might generate.

But potentially more fiscally significant: By not limiting casinos or slot machines to Miami-Dade and Broward as voters did, Bogdanoff all but assures her bill would jeopardize the 2010 Seminole Indian compact. The tribe has exclusive rights to offer so-called table games and slot machines outside those two counties in exchange for providing a minimum of $1 billion to the state over five years. If that exclusivity is breached, so is the lucrative financial deal.

Last month before the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, Bogdanoff's plan looked all but dead in the water due to competing interests, from progambling lawmakers such as Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, who were irked that some regions of the state might be left out of the casino rush, to antigambling lawmakers such as former House Speaker John Thrasher, now a state senator from St. Augustine, who balked at the sheer scope of change she proposed. Bogdanoff is gambling that these changes will buy off parimutuel backers like Jones so she can move her plan forward.

But bills of this significance, which have the potential to spread slot machines from one end of the state to the other, should never be rushed to judgment. The Senate committee would be wise to follow the advice Thrasher, offered last month, to slow the bill down. That was even before Bogdanoff's attempt to offer something for everyone. Now the committee has even more reason to just say no.

Bad plan for casinos getting worse 01/07/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 7, 2012 3:31am]
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