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Roger Stone

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Casinos for Florida? Let the People Decide

Posted: 03/19/2012 6:54 pm

Florida is a state which derives much of its revenues from tourism. The state has seven Indian casinos and currently allows slot machines at racetracks and Jai-Alai frontons in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Yet, stunningly, a proposal to bring full-fledged casino gambling to Florida was recently withdrawn from consideration in the Florida House after it became clear that the measure didn't have the required votes for passage.

Disney, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, South Florida Pari-mutuels, and the Seminole Indians were joined by some greedy Las Vegas Casino companies to block this proposal. Passage of the so-called Destination Casino Resorts bill would have generated billions in revenues for the state's strained and under-funded operating budget and produced thousands of jobs for local job-seekers. Some estimates indicate that 40% of South Florida's unemployed workers could find work once the destination resorts proposal was passed.

Ironically, Walt Disney World, the pari-mutuels, and the Seminole Indian Tribe have been the fiercest and most outspoken opponents of legal, regulated gaming coming to Florida. Whose ox is being gored?

Is it funny that those who opposed the casino bill are in either the entertainment or casino "gaming" business. The real issue on the table in Tallahassee is the protection of these existing monopolies.

Opponents of bringing casinos to Florida falsely wave the flag of crime and compulsive gambling. In fact, any potential impact of crime or compulsive gambling can be mitigated against through proper planning and funding. An objective view of crime statistics in the states that have legalized casinos shows a drop in crime based on additional funding for law enforcement generated by the casinos. Studies to the contrary have been discredited.

This decision is too important to leave to a bunch of grubby politicians in Tallahassee. In 2014, the people of Florida have the ability to vote for passage of a casino proposal, through a statewide constitutional amendment referendum, and without the inclusion or meddling of the special interest-controlled legislature.

The signature gathering requirement to amend the Florida constitution requires signatures from 8% of Florida voters who voted in the last presidential election, selected from at least 13 of the 25 Florida Congressional Districts. So, at least 676,811 signatures are needed to put an issue on the ballot in 2014 to amend to the Florida Constitution. A constitutional amendment requires three-quarters of a million signatures to place it on the ballot as well as the vote of 60% of the electorate, a tall order to be sure. Easy? No. Possible? Absolutely.

It is important to note that there is currently no constitutional prohibition of casino gambling. If recalcitrant legislators in the state capital refuse to enact casino legislation, the voters can take the issue into their own hands.

In fact, South Florida pari-mutuel racetracks tried three times to convince the legislature to legalize slots before being forced to take the issue directly to the people -- to let all Floridians decide. When the Florida slot amendment was presented to "the people" in 2004, it was voted into law on the very first ballot attempt. Florida already has gambling at racetracks and Indian casinos but the taxpayers are not getting the financial rewards.

Any way you look at it, the legalization of casino gambling to increase state revenues is preferable to raising taxes on the working families of Florida.

Under the gambling compact signed by former Governor Charlie Crist, the Seminoles pay the state the lowest percentage of revenue of any of the states that conduct Indian gaming. The Seminoles, did, however, give Governor Crist $1 million in contributions for the Republican Party of Florida in return for the sweet deal Crist gave them.

Any expansion of gambling in South Florida should be subject to local referendum. An ideal constitutional amendment should require this local vote in addition to statewide passage. When it comes to casinos in Florida, I say let the people decide.