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Legislator gathering anti-casino forces

State Sen. John Grant has decided to organize the fight against casinos in an effort to defeat proposals that appear headed for the November ballot.

Grant, R-Tampa, said Monday that he has begun to put together a mailing list and contact people who may be helpful.

"I'm ready to fight and raise several million dollars," Grant said. "I had been waiting for someone else to put it together and realized we weren't seeing anyone do it."

Grant, who has close ties to fundamentalist Christian groups and abortion opponents, said he plans to work with church and family groups.

"As I read it this year, it won't be a slam dunk," Grant said. "It will be a tough battle."

Although Floridians have twice defeated similar amendments, polls indicate that a majority of voters now favors casinos.

Grant said he believes Florida needs to maintain its image as a family tourist destination and shun casinos because they are ultimately bad for the economy.

Several groups are organizing in support of casinos. The best effort is Proposition for Limited Casinos, which wants to put casinos in each of the state's 37 parimutuel facilities, give each county the option for an additional casino and allow a mega-casino in Dade County.

Another group, Proposition for County Choice Gaming, is backed by major South Florida hotels that want to develop casinos in large hotels and on riverboats in counties where voters approve.

Casino proponents say the state might as well authorize gambling so it can regulate and tax it. The state's American Indian tribes hope to get into the casino business, and the state is constitutionally barred from regulating or taxing activities on reservations.

Grant said he does not buy the argument that the state should get into the business just because Indian tribes may be able to do it. "I don't think two wrongs make a right," he said.

Grant said he plans to ask drugstore magnate Jack Eckerd of Clearwater and Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman to help him organize the effort. He hopes to announce detailed plans within the next two weeks.

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