The debate has been raging for weeks over HB 1233, the Florida casino bill introduced by House Majority Leader Dana Young on March 2, 2015. The Seminole tribe is against it, several anti-gambling organizations despise it, and the state’s racinos don’t want to compete with it. Today, at a formally scheduled workshop, we’ll finally get to see where members of the House stand on the issue.
The Florida casino bill would allow for two commercial casinos to open up in Broward and/or Miami-Dade Counties. This wouldn’t be just any casinos, though. In fact, they would be unlike any casino the Sunshine State currently plays host to. Rep. Young’s HB 1233 seeks to incorporate two Las Vegas-style destination casinos, complete with a much wider range of gambling amusements, and resort-style amenities, than Florida’s current gambling establishments have to offer.
Heavy Opposition to HB 1233
The Florida casino bill has been condemned by many groups already.
No Casinos, an organization based out of Orlando that strongly opposes any form of gambling expansion in Florida, is adamant that “more gambling will hurt our economy, our communities, and our taxpayers,” as per the website’s tag-line. The group has gone to extensive efforts to make their opinion known, broadcasting 30-second television and radio ads across some Florida districts.
John Sowinski, President of No Casinos, said HB 1233, “invites wall-to-wall casino gambling in Florida, and the social costs and crime that go with it.”
The Seminole Tribe is another devout opponent of the Florida casino bill, instead promoting the renewal of their own gaming compact with the state that grants them exclusive rights to offer banked card games at 7 of its 9 Florida casinos. That compact is set to expire July 31, 2015.
Tribal officials have launched three ad campaigns already, with the most recent highlighting a tribe-commissioned poll that showed 61% of “Floridians believe the Seminole compact is working and should be renewed.” The tribe says its compact has “exceeded expectations” in Florida, contributing more than $1 billion to state tax coffers in the last five years.
Florida is home to 25 Racinos – horse/dog racing tracks with casinos (limited to slot machines, per the Seminole gaming compact) – and none of them are too thrilled about the idea of competing with Las Vegas-style destination casinos in Florida.
Workshop to discuss Florida Casino Bill
Rep. Young says today’s workshop – which is only designated as a discussion, there will be no voting taking place – will “give members an opportunity to not only discuss and debate the status quo, but also alternative visions for gaming in Florida.” Rep. Young explained, “There are so many trade-offs and moving parts in this issue.”
The Florida casino bill wouldn’t just allow for the licensing of two destination casinos, but would also grant race tracks the option to continue hosting slot machines without hosting live races. It would create a state gambling commission, and according to Young, would generate more annual tax dollars than the Seminole’s current gaming compact has done.
Rep. Young said, “We want to really flesh out what options are available to the Legislature.” She also made it clear that she is “completely open-minded and flexible to reworking the bill.”
When contacted for comment, Senate President Andy Gardiner responded cautiously; a smart decision considering that his office will have the final say in the decision if the House approves the Florida casino bill.
“This legislation was filed by a top member of the House leadership team. I take that as an indication of the House’s position on the issue.” Sen. Gardiner concluded that, “If the House sends us Leader Young’s bill, with time permitting it would certainly receive a full vetting in the Senate.”