Update on Florida casinos

State Senator Dennis Jones sponsored a bill, which Senate President Mike Haridopolos strangely assigned to the Commerce  and Tourism Committee of the Senate, that was written by the lobbyist for the Las Vegas Sands and goes to great lengths to deliver a casino monopoly to the Las Vegas Sands corporate magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Haridopolos has told bill opponents with a straight face that they will have to take their amendments to Jones because it is “his bill” and the Senate president urged opponents to work individual committee members.

This is the same Mike Haridopolos who wrote “During those two years, he (the Senate President) is a king, exercising more power within his chamber,” and “Traditionally, a member who accepts a chairmanship tacitly agrees to support the president’s agenda. As a result, Senate presidents expect a degree of loyalty, if not complete obedience, from their committee chairs.”

No one thinks Jones is acting without the Senate President’s direction. The bill put forward by Jones would allow only one casino in the Miami-Dade-Broward “region.” The bill would also require a local county referendum and therefore it is unlikely that any “region” outside of those two counties could pass a referendum and open.

Jones adds on a requirement to build 1,000 hotel rooms and an additional requirement to build convention center and trade show space. Under “Sheldon’s bill,” only 10 percent of the entire facility built can be gaming floor space.

By putting a $2 billion price tag on the required project, Adelson hopes to price his competitors out of the market. He also hopes to  eliminates potential competition at the Fountainbleu or at the Diplomat Hotel in Hallandale.

In a dramatic turn of events, lobbyists for Caesar’s, Wynn, MGM, Asian Casino monolith Genting and Frontier owner Phil Ruffin succeeded in convincing Miami State Representative Eric Fresen to sponsor a nearly identical destination casino bill that strips out Sheldon’s regions and opens Miami-Dade and Broward to multiple casinos. Senator Oscar Braynon, a Democrat Haridpolos can’t control has sponsored a companion bill in the Senate.

Both bills have come under fire because the legalization of any type of casino gambling in Florida would violate the state’s guarantee of exclusivity for slot machines pledged to the Seminole Tribe when the state signed a compact with the Seminole Indians to allow slot machines and Black Jack at six locations in Florida.

South Florida Tea Party leader and former U.S. Marine Everett Wilkinson has pointed out that the Seminoles paid Florida $378 million last year and that the act of opening other casinos would cost Florida $1.8 billion in the five years it took the first mega casino to open. The South Florida Tea Party has denounced both the Jones and Fresen bills as “fiscally irresponsible.”

AFI, a right wing business organization that does not disclose its members or donors, claims through its executive director Buddy Bishop that the Jones bill would not cost the state revenues. Either Bishop does not understand the Seminole Compact and how it is worded and ignorant of federal Indian law, or he has most likely been paid to take a pro-casino line.

Sands Vice President Andy Abboud has began reaching out to some Miami Dade and Broward pari-mutuels. Abboud has steadfastly refused to amend the Jones bill to include anything more than a tax cut for the current slot operators. The pari-mutuels want table games having won the right to have slot machines in a constitutional amendment in 2006.

Sheldon Adelson’s carved-out monopoly is in deep trouble in the House, even if Haridopolos and Jones jam the bill through the Senate the way Sheldon wants it. Rival casino companies threatened to undo Sheldon’s monopoly in the House.

The announcement of a federal investigation into the Las Vegas Sands – which grew out of a lawsuit between the company and one of its former executives in Macao – could not have come at a worse time. The Sands is accused of bribing Chinese public officials to approve condominiums built by the Sands. Adelson himself is alleged to have authorized the bribe. Will Florida give a casino monopoly to such a man?

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