Major shift under way in Florida’s gaming business

The head to head @ Calder saturday was cancelled because of the late scratch of one of the horses. Guess the racing Gods intervened to save the bettors from themselves on Yom Kippur .
Not sure who is dumber here. Calder for continuing to offer this flip a coin bet with a takeout, or the dumb bettors who actually bet this. In other south Florida news:
Major shift under way in Florida’s gaming business
October 9, 2011
From Tallahassee to coastal South Florida, there have been increasingly strong tremors of late that may signal a tectonic shift in the state’s gaming business.

The shift could affect where people can gamble and which communities reap a jobs bonanza — as well as the headaches of hosting giant Las Vegas-caliber casinos.

There is movement on multiple fronts. Two South Florida lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on proposed legislation to bring three huge gambling resorts to Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Existing “racinos” like Gulfstream Race Track and Calder Casino and Race Course are struggling to defend their home turf.
And the Seminole tribe, for the moment the uncrowned king of Florida’s gambling business, is evaluating whether its complex relationship with Florida, which guarantees the state millions of dollars in revenue each year, should continue.

It’s a game with well-financed, powerful players — all vying for the ear of lawmakers who could make or break their financial futures.

But nothing is a done deal yet.

The plan for destination casinos is shaky in Tallahassee, but top political leaders aren’t shouting it down yet. Gov. Rick Scott has remained vague, saying only he doesn’t want the state budget to be reliant on gaming dollars. House Speaker Dean Cannon, who has previously opposed gaming expansion, has been notably quiet. Senate President Mike Haridopolos has said his chamber would give any destination plan a careful listen and then vote on it.

“If someone’s interested in investing $2 billion in the state of Florida, I think we’re probably going to listen,” said Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.

The existing pari-mutuels — the tracks and jai alais of South Florida — hold political sway, though, and many state lawmakers may demand a sweetener for those facilities if resort casinos are allowed to become players in the Florida market, potentially tapping pari-mutuel customers.

Walt Disney World —arguably the single most influential private enterprise in the state — is dead-set against gambling expansion as potentially harmful to the state’s family-friendly image. And history shows that when the Mouse speaks, politicians in Tallahassee listen.

But with state unemployment at 10.7 percent, destination casinos may hold the trump card: the promise to politicians that they can and will create jobs.

Las Vegas Sands, one of several companies interested in building in South Florida, has said its leaders believe their company can make a $2 billion to $4 billion investment in Florida and create 8,000 to 16,000 direct jobs. The company has already begun scouting potential resort sites in the Miami area.

Another newcomer to Florida, Genting, which has already purchased bayfront property in Miami that it hopes to make into a casino, has made similar promises as it lobbies the state’s lawmakers.

“Destination resorts will result in billions of dollars of new investment in Florida, millions in new tax revenue that will yield positive impacts statewide, and as many as 100,000 new jobs,” Genting general counsel Jessica Hoppe said in a prepared statement.

The accuracy of those rosy forecasts remains to be seen.

The problem with most economic impact studies on the gambling industry is that they have ties to the gambling industry itself. In the spring, state lawmakers wary of depending on such research approved a $400,000 independent study to be completed by the state, but Gov. Scott vetoed it, saying the state shouldn’t be spending tax money on studies when budget resources are scarce.

Officials at Visit Florida, the state’s tourism bureau, said last week that they haven’t yet commissioned a study to measure the tourism impact; and the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County’s economic development body, still has concerns about whether gaming expansion would truly be a boon for the area.

“We’re in the process of trying to look at it independently. We’re trying to look at how it affected Atlantic City and how it affected Las Vegas,” said Ana Acle-Menendez, a spokeswoman for the council.

One especially knotty issue is whether new resort-style casinos would put existing gaming facilities out of business. Currently, South Florida pari-mutuels, already struggling to stay afloat in the down economy, face a 35 percent state tax rate. Under the proposals being drafted in Tallahassee, Las Vegas-style facilities would face only a 10 percent tax.

Dan Adkins, vice president for Hollywood’s Mardi Gras Gaming, a greyhound track that also offers poker and slots, said if the new facilities come in and existing pari-mutuels don’t get a lower tax rate, many may have to close.

That would result in laid-off workers and less money in taxes for the state, Adkins said, and the destination resorts might not be able to make up for that and still deliver on their promises. The state should focus on what is already in Florida, he said.

“Let’s put our existing Florida businesses to work,” he said.

The racinos are also pushing for the Legislature to pass a “decoupling” law to boost their business fortunes. This would end a requirement that a dog track conduct live races in order to maintain its license for a casino or card room. TheFlorida Legislature took preliminary steps to do that in the 2011 spring legislative session, but did not manage to pass the law by the end of the 60-day session.

Also at stake are millions of dollars in state revenue paid by the Seminole tribe of Florida. In 2010, the tribe signed a 20-year compact with the state that granted the tribe exclusive rights to operate Vegas-style slot machines outside of South Florida, plus the right to operate banked card games such as blackjack and baccarat at five of its seven facilities. Those games are not allowed at the existing pari-mutuels.

At the five-year point, the tribe and state can renegotiate the compact’s terms, but tribe officials have warned that if companies like Sands or Genting, which would operate full-blown casinos with card tables and slot machines, open before the five-year point, the tribe could void the compact and the state would have to forfeit a portion of the money it’s supposed to be paid.

The tribe is not governed by the state and therefore is not obligated to pay the state tax dollars or any other revenue from its gaming proceeds unless a compact exists between the tribe and the state.

Jim Allen, the tribe’s chief executive officer, said Florida should be looking to the tribe, not outside companies, to build a destination resort in South Florida. Profits made by the tribe will stay in the state, he said, arguing that outside companies will take the money out of state.

The Seminoles distribute casino profits to their 3,800 tribal members, most of whom live in Florida, he noted.

“That money is then spent at local grocery stores, car dealerships, Home Depots and the like,” he said. “No other CEO of a gaming company can say that in this state.”

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