Column: Lawmakers May Roll Dice on Casinos

Sep 25, 2011

The following article was published in the Lakeland Ledger on September 25, 2011:

Lawmakers may roll dice on casinos

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos said he expects the Senate to vote on bringing “destination resort” casinos to the state, saying if it passes it could produce some $1 billion in revenue.

“We’re going to take a full look at it,” he said.

Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said he changed the membership on some of the key Senate committees recently in order to assure a major casino bill could make it to the floor.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if all 40 senators get a chance to vote it up or down,” Haridopolos said, adding “I don’t know if it will pass or not.”

Most of the focus has been on bringing a major resort-casino complex to Southeast Florida, with Genting, an Asian casino company, already acquiring waterfront property in downtown Miami.

Haridopolos said there has also been talk about megacasinos in Broward and Palm Beach counties as well as Tampa Bay.

But he said if Florida brings major casinos to the state, the state needs to “get it right,” focusing on a limited number of upscale facilities. “I don’t want to see Florida become another Las Vegas,” he said.

Haridopolos said Gov. Rick Scott has an “open mind” on the proposal, while noting the House has been “cool” to the idea.

Scott said he doesn’t want the state to be overly reliant on gambling revenue and he wants to give local communities a say in whether they bring casinos to their areas.

“We can’t balance our budget on gaming revenues,” Scott said.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said he remains philosophically opposed to expanding gambling, although he said he would allow a casino bill to be considered in the House. He said it could draw support if the casino venture is coupled with the reduction of other types of gambling.

With little growth in state revenues and nearly 1 million Floridians without jobs, Haridopolos said the casino issue may have more traction in the session that begins in January.

“Obviously, the economic climate has opened people’s minds to it,” he said.


Texas Gov. Rick Perry has drawn political heat for his characterization of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme.” His top rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has bludgeoned Perry with the issue, suggesting he wants to dismantle the current system.

And a new independent poll from Quinnipiac University shows that Perry’s “Ponzi” comments are not playing well with Florida voters. By a 58 percent-to-33 percent margin, the state’s voters said it was unfair for Perry to use that description.

But Perry’s message was being received more openly by Republican voters. A majority — 52 percent — said it was a fair description and 60 percent of the GOP voters said they took the remarks to mean Perry wants to fix the system and not get rid of it.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, one of Perry’s top supporters in Florida, said Perry’s blunt criticism may pay off in the end.

“People understand it’s broken. It’s not sustainable,” Cannon said. “I think people totally get his message and the fact that he had the political courage to speak plainly about it ahead of the other candidates earns him some authenticity and credibility points with the voters.”

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