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Minorities want piece of the action

The Rev. Charles Cloy, an official of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Florida, isn't the sort of fellow who looks for an opportunity to gamble.

In fact, he spent Tuesday, Wednesday and part of Thursday in Las Vegas without even slipping a nickel into a slot machine.

"I need my money," he said with a chuckle.

But Cloy, of Jacksonville, who is executive assistant to AME Bishop Frank C. Cummings, said he supports the amendment that would bring casino gambling to this state.

"I'm interested in what opportunities it might provide for black folks," Cloy said. "If it is going to provide jobs for black folks, I'm for it."

This is a key part of the argument made by Proposition for Limited Casinos, the group that's trying to convince Floridians to vote Nov. 8 to allow 47 casinos into the state. The group says casinos will provide jobs and business opportunities for all Floridians, including minorities.

Several of the African-Americans who took Limited Casinos tour to Las Vegas said that interests them too, and they want to make sure that any casinos would do more than pay lip service to the issue.

"I think there will be opportunities, but I just hope that the minorities will be worked into those opportunities," said Vera Gilford Clency, an African-American who owns a bar in Miami and is starting a radio station in the Florida Keys.

Officials from Hilton and Mirage, major Las Vegas casino operators with plans to move into Florida gambling, said they plan to hire many minorities.

"There's a good business reason for it," said Alan M. Feldman, vice president for Mirage. "Your customers and your employees should relate to each other."

Several who took the tour wanted to be sure that the casinos and hotels in Florida would not only hire minorities, but also give minority-owned businesses a hand in building the casinos and supplying them.

And they wanted to know how they could be sure it would happen.

That question, said lawyer J. Michael Haygood of Boca Raton, "really hasn't been answered.

Limited Casinos officials last week were drafting a statement they hoped would provide an answer. The draft, scheduled to be finalized and released this week, said Florida casinos will attempt to:

Make sure that at least 25 percent of casino staff employees are minorities or women, in each employment category, including managers and professionals.

Set a goal of having casinos purchase at least 15 percent of their goods and services from minority-owned business. That goal applies to a specific list of goods and services.

Haygood said that document sounded like a good attempt to make sure minorities were included in the business opportunities.

Nonetheless, Limited Casinos leader Pat Roberts acknowledged that a lot of the big casino corporations _ including those that want to come to Florida _ don't presently employ many minorities at the management level.

"They've got a long way to go and I think they're willing to admit that," Roberts said.

Warren Williams, an African-American who is president of Williams Engineering and Construction in Tampa, said he would like to get involved in the construction of a casino if the amendment passes. Although undecided at the outset of the tour, he said afterward that he was leaning in favor of the amendment.

Other black-owned businesses, such as Urban Constructors Inc. of Miami, would like to build a casino, too. But that's not all. Company president Jacque E. Thermilus said he would like to own one, possibly in partnership with another company.

"We would like to join Hilton or the Mirage team if we could," Thermilus said.