State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale and Rep. Erik Fresen of Miami claim their legislation to add three destination casinos to Florida is aimed at reducing gambling in the state. But based on the 142-page bill the pair finally unveiled Wednesday, that's misleading at best. If the Legislature approves HB 487 in anything close to its initial draft, the state might as well put a sign at the border: Welcome to Las Vegas East. The least Bogdanoff and Fresen could do is be honest about the impact of their sweeping legislation.
After months of anticipation and work, the so-called recipe for revolutionizing Florida's gambling industry remains terribly flawed. Among the most obvious problems:
• Contrary to the sponsors' claims that they are looking to only add three mega-casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties (where voters previously approved slot machines for the state's longtime parimutuels), the bill opens the door to let any county — be it Pensacola's Escambia County, Pinellas County or Palm Beach County — compete for a casino license as long as it schedules a referendum on allowing casinos.
• The bill's accelerated time line and selection guidelines would make thorough vetting impossible. Regulators will have just 60 days after the state agency forms to develop an invitation to negotiate and, after receiving an application, just 90 days to decide whether to grant or deny a casino license.
The bill requires applicants to submit job estimates and revenue projections. But there is no requirement that regulators seek independent analysis of those numbers. Nor does the process contemplate how the development would impact existing hotels, restaurants and other tourism.
The selection criteria are so weighted toward location/design and speed to market (carrying a combined 70 percent of the decision's criteria) that it shortchanges serious review of the casino management (10 percent) and its projected business plan (10 percent). Those are arguably the two most crucial elements to whether the project actually accomplishes what the applicant says it will. This isn't regulation; it's window dressing.
• The bill favors the international casino industry over homegrown Florida businesses. Bogdanoff and Fresen would tax casinos at 10 percent but force the state's parimutuels to still hand over 35 percent. The bill would also take all limits off the casinos built by the Seminole Indian Tribe, which would no longer have to contribute roughly $230 million to state coffers over the next three years. And it does nothing to regulate Internet cafes, the scourge popping up in strip malls across the state.
This isn't a plan to limit big-time gambling to South Florida. This is a plan to let outside casino industry players make a fortune at the expense of Florida's family-friendly brand and the state's long-term economic prospects. Don't be fooled.