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No. 8: No to casinos

There are so many good reasons to reject casino gambling that it's hard to know where to begin. Best to start at home.

Even if you don't consider the moral questions, the fear of increased crime, the wasteful diversion of money or the inevitable stresses and strains on families, consider how the pro-casino crowd would use the Florida Constitution to short-circuit home rule.

The constitutional amendment that voters will confront on Election Day would force casinos into communities even if they don't want them. The parimutuel facilities that would benefit the most from this outrageous proposition exist only because they got the approval of voters in their local communities.

Those voters didn't expect a casino to spring up where a dog track, horse track or jai lai fronton was built. But that's what this amendment would allow, whether the voters in their communities like it or not.

Think of that: Voters in South Florida and the rest of the state could dictate whether casinos should operate in the Tampa Bay area. That is sufficient reason to reject this amendment. But there are plenty more.

A related issue is growth management. Local government would have virtually no say in determining whether a casino fits the surrounding neighborhood. Roads, sewers, water lines, environmental concerns, the myriad issues that are affected by development can be blithely ignored by these casino operators. Proponents argue that enlightened self-interest will lead the casinos to make needed public improvements, but Florida's landscape is littered with evidence to the contrary.

If this amendment is approved, it will mark the first time in the state's history that specific businesses have been granted the constitutional right to run what amounts to limited monopolies, including a Miami Beach developer who threatened to campaign against the initiative if he wasn't cut in on the deal. These 47 operators and they alone would have a permanent place in the Constitution to make a profit. That is an offensive misuse of the Florida Constitution.

Although the fear of crime caused by casinos can be overstated, it is real and it ought to be considered. Casinos may not lead to gun battles in the street, but they certainly won't reduce crime, one of the most laughable arguments proponents have advanced.

Consider, too, the consequences of gambling on families. The money lost at casinos might have been spent somewhere else _ like the grocery store. Gambling addiction is real and can be as detrimental to families as alcoholism.

Voters who embraced the lottery in a misguided attempt to improve education should vote against casinos. One reason the parimutuel industry has joined forces with the casino crowd after a history of opposition is the business they have lost to the lottery. But if the lottery has hurt the parimutuels, casinos will surely hurt the lottery. It is illogical for voters to embrace the lottery and then approve another form of gambling that can only hurt the lottery.

The pro-casino crowd would have Florida voters believe that casinos are inevitable. That is the biggest lie of all. They argue that the Seminole Indian Tribe of Florida has moved aggressively into the gambling trade without any benefit to taxpayers. But the tribe is limited to bingo and penny-ante poker. The slot machines now operating are illegal and ought to be removed by federal law enforcement. But if casinos are approved, the tribe will have the green light to expand their relatively small enterprise. Casinos are only inevitable if voters let them in.

Casinos are being sold as a boon for the economy, even though a recent study by the Ford Foundation and the Aspen Institute concluded that any gains from casinos are made at the expense of existing businesses.

The pro-casino lobby calls itself Proposition for Limited Casinos, but given that this amendment would authorize 47 casinos around the state, such an assertion is absurd.

The campaign on behalf of casinos has been so full of lies, distortions and half-truths that someone should call the bunco squad. Since that won't happen, voters ought to send a clear message on Election Day and say no to casinos.

Ballot amendments

No. 1: Should the annual state legislative session start in March, instead of February?

No. 2: Should state government place limits on the amount of revenue it can use each year?

No. 3: Should the state prohibit the use of certain types of fishing nets in Florida coastal waters?

No. 4: Should petitions to change the Constitution be allowed to cover more than one subject?

No. 5-7: These were removed from the ballot.

No. 8: Should the state authorize casino gambling?