Florida Senate Committee Passes Casino Bill


Florida Senate Committee Passes Casino Bill

 

After Senator Dennis Jones withdrew
his Destination Casino bill, which was written by lobbyists for the Las Vegas
Sands corporation to create a casino monopoly for the Sand’s Sheldon Adelson,
the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee passed Senate Bill 2050. The bill,
sponsored by Senator Oscar Braynon, provides for up to five
casinos in Florida but excludes the Orlando area as a concession to Disney. The
rejection of the Jones bill is considered a stinging defeat for Sands lobbyist
Nick Iraci and Sands VP for Government Relations Andy
Abboud
who spent over $3 million on the losing effort.

 

The bill also included amendments that eliminate the
minimum requirements for convention space (500k sq ft) and 1000 hotel rooms,
exempt Broward and Miami-Dade counties from the county wide referendum
requirement, and extend the same table games to those pari-mutuels holding slot
licenses on the same basic terms (tax rates, hours, limits). Under the bill, the
Miami-Dade and Broward pari-mutuels could begin to offer such games as soon as
the first casino opens or is anticipated to open.

 

The new gambling bill still faces an uphill battle in
Tallahassee. Opponents are already pledging to kill the measure, which has two
more committees to navigate before getting a general vote in the Senate. The
bill must then pass the House.

 

South Florida Tea Party leader Everett
Wilkinson
has attacked the bill as “financially irresponsible” because
it would void a 20 year agreement with the Seminole Tribe for slot revenue of as
much as $150 million a year. “This bill will cost Florida revenue and not
improve our budget problems,” Wilkinson told the Clarion.

 

Meanwhile, competition for a Miami-Dade casino under
the bill has gotten intense. Home Builder Art Falcone who
eschews professional lobbyists, has been taken around the capital by former
Ambassador Ned Siegel pushing a down-town Miami site across
from the American Airlines Arena, but Miami Heat post-game traffic make the site
a non-starter. Developer Sergio Rock has tied down the OMNI
hotel and optioned a contiguous ten acre parcel. Rock’s location has strong
support from elected officials. The Fountainbleau hotel has retained lobbyist
Alain Jean. Casino magnate Steve Wynn visited
a potential casino site on Watson Island as well as a mid-town site this
week.

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