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Casino debate is a duel of the "facts'

Doug Sessions and George Greene agree on two points: They want people to get out and vote. And they want them to vote on casino gambling in Florida based on economic incentives.

They disagree, however, on what those economic incentives are and how Floridians should vote.

The two men politely exchanged verbal jabs Wednesday as they tried to persuade more than 100 people to vote their way during a debate hosted by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Derby Lane and No Casinos Inc.

They bombarded the audience with numbers, with each claiming he was telling the truth. They were sometimes vague about their sources.

Gambling will bring more jobs and increase tax revenue for the state, said Sessions, the president of Proposition for Limited Casinos Inc., a group supporting legalized casino gambling in Florida.

Not so, said Greene, the executive director of No Casinos Inc., a group that opposes legalized casino gambling in Florida.

Gambling won't bring more jobs; it will just redistribute existing ones, he said. Any increased tax revenue the casinos might bring to the state would be offset by increased costs related to casinos, he said.

Voters will have the final say on Nov. 8 when they decide whether to allow 47 casinos in the state.

Sessions said casinos would bring 67,700 jobs to the state by 1997, and 10,000 of those jobs would be in the Tampa Bay area. He said 6,500 people would be directly employed by the casinos in the bay area, while 3,500 other people would be indirectly employed.

Sessions was citing a study by the WEFA Group, an independent forecasting firm based in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. He implied that the study was endorsed by the prestigious Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

While a professor from the school founded and is still part of the organization, the school is no longer connected to the forecasting group, Beverly Meyers, a Wharton spokeswoman, said later.

Greene took issue with Sessions' jobs forecast.

"Studies have shown that casinos cannibalize other industries," Greene said. "For every job created, another job is lost."

Greene was citing a report by Earl Grinols, a professor at the University of Illinois who wrote an article in the spring 1994 Illinois Business Review.

After disagreeing on the number of jobs, they turned to taxes, each predicting _ accurately _ what the other would say.

Sessions said casino gambling in Florida would contribute $780-million in tax revenue to the state coffers. That figure also is based on the WEFA Group study, which assumed a gaming tax of 12 percent on gaming revenues. However, if casino gambling passes, the Legislature would have to decide the rate it would tax gambling, so studies can only estimate tax revenues.

Greene, predictably, disagreed with Sessions' figures.

"For every $1 in taxes, the government spends $1.50 to cover expenses caused by casino gambling," said Greene, again citing Grinols' report.

Jobs also were the focus of a Limited Casinos news conference in Tallahassee on Wednesday, where supporters of Amendment 8 said casinos would mean employment for women and minorities.

Limited Casinos officials pledged to give equal access to casino jobs and contracts if voters approve casinos.

State Reps. Willie Logan of Opa-locka, Tony Hill of Jacksonville and Addie Greene of West Palm Beach joined the casino group to applaud the effort.

_ Tallahassee Bureau Chief Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.

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