Pair of state lawmakers gambling on more casinos


Pair of state lawmakers gambling on more casinos

Monday night, shortly after stepping of an airplane, John McDonough took a stroll on St. Pete Beach. He and his family had just arrived from snowy Philadelphia.

“It feels great to be here. It’s been a long winter in Philadelphia; we’ve had 45 inches of snow there this year,” he said.

Not far away, Dave Abbott took in a sunset before he and his wife were due to depart for Dayton, Ohio. “We’ve enjoyed it my wife likes to walk on the beach.  I just sit around, get a little sun.”

McDonough and Abbott are among the 83-million people who visit Florida every year. They help pump $60.9 billion into Florida’s annual economy. As valuable as Abbott and McDonough are to Florida’s economy, two state lawmakers say the Sunshine State’s tourist economy relies too much on the leisure traveler.

State senators Dennis Jones (R-Seminole) and Maria Sachs (D-Delay Beach) have sponsored legislation that would create five new resort and convention districts around the state. Each resort would have a minimum of 1,000 hotel rooms and each could have up to 10-percent of its resort devoted to Las Vegas-style casino gaming.

“Governor Scott wants jobs,” Senator Jones said, “…we should become the trade show destination of the world.”

Jones estimates mega convention centers with gaming facilities could attract up to 10 million more tourists a year. He also predicts each facility could employ 5,000 people or more.

Some statistics suggest up to half of the 49.5 million people who visit Clark County, Nevada, home to Las Vegas, go there for large conventions and trade shows. The question is, if Florida builds the casinos and convention centers, will the tourists come?

“If I was down in a college spring break, I think I would definitely end up going,” said James Edwards, who is visiting Florida from Georgia.

“You will be adding to the tourist base that is coming to here,” St. Pete resident Rafael Rodriguez added.

Sen. Jones said, “…when I was trying to find a spot for a chiropractic convention, we couldn’t find any place big enough. We get kind of ignored by people in the trade show industry.”

However, there are already indications other gambling interests will oppose the legislation. Dog and horse track owners in South Florida may team up with operators of the Seminole Hard Rock Casinos to block the bill. They may also have help from some of those who were attracted to Florida for its beaches.

“It’s so nice and quiet and comfortable here,” Atlanta native Eileen Edwards said while taking in the sun on St. Pete beach. “I think that’s what brings the type of people here and I think if you put casinos you’d ruin all of that.”

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