Sen. Dennis Jones of Seminole pulls ‘destination resorts’ bill

Sen. Dennis Jones of Seminole pulls ‘destination resorts’ bill

Faced with an onslaught of opposition from Florida’s powerful parimutuel gambling industry, state Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, on Wednesday withdrew his bill to allow for “destination resort” casinos in Florida. Jones said that the push by the parimutuel industry to use the bill to lower their tax rate forced him give up on the effort this year. “As we started to gain some acceptance, the parimutuel industry attacked us with the idea they wanted another tax cut and I was unwilling to do that after we gave them a 15 percent tax cut last year,” he said. “They apparently had the votes to ride on the back of this industry. I’d rather have nothing than something I don’t like.” Under the plan, Florida would have allowed four to five casino resorts to bid for a chance to operate full casinos, including slot machines, blackjack, roulette, baccarat and craps embedded in a massive convention resort. The bidders would have paid a $50 million application fee and be offered an exclusive contract to operate the games, with the resorts at least 75 miles apart.

Deregulation bill clears committee

After more than two hours of testimony and debate, the House Appropriations Committee voted 15-8 in favor of a bill that would deregulate 20 professions. Ninety people signed up to speak on HB 5005, most of them interior design students who feared the time and money they spent in college working on design degrees would be wasted. Some broke down in tears as they spoke. “A lot of you have jobs. We don’t. We have dreams,” said LLilian Perez, who traveled from Miami with about 20 fellow students. “Please help us.”

In Mississippi, Scott sees hope

Scribbles in Times/Herald staff writer Michael C. Bender’s notebook after the Florida Chamber of Commerce International Days Conference:

1. Gov. Rick Scott, who says he’s competing with all of the country’s governors to attract new businesses to the state, sees a benefit for Florida in Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour‘s potential presidential bid. “Thankfully, Haley is on his last year as governor and looks like he is going to run for president, so he won’t be focused on it,” Scott said.

2. Scott’s comment came as he was introducing perhaps his most important hire to date: Enterprise Florida president Gray Swoope. Swoope was hired from Barbour’s Mississippi Development Authority. “Gray was a competitor. He was helping Haley Barbour make sure that all the jobs that could have come to Florida the last seven years went to Mississippi,” Scott said.

3. Former House Speaker Allan Bense introduced Scott and suggested he was doing a favor for leaders in the Republican-controlled, veto-proof Legislature, like his son-in-law Will Weatherford. “Our governor has taken more slings and arrows from a lot of folks,” Bense said. “I told my son-in-law in the Florida House of Representatives that, ‘He is taking heat for you guys.’ “

4. Scott implied he would be willing to consider a 30 percent tuition increase at state universities. “We’ve got to make sure we have the funds at our universities so they can do a great job and so we have great universities. So I think we have to look at those things,” Scott said.

Times/Herald staff writers Mary Ellen Klas and Janet Zink contributed to this report.

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