Central Floridians split on gambling resorts
South Florida Business Journal by Kevin Gale, Editor in Chief
Date: Monday, October 17, 2011, 11:50am EDT
Central Florida’s traditional opposition to casino gambling appears to have some cracks.
While the Florida Chamber of Commerce is reiterating its opposition, the Orlando Sentinel reports the issue is splitting tourism officials.
An article last week in the Sentinel said: “With casino executives aggressively lobbying the Florida Legislature to build Las Vegas-style casino resorts in South Florida, some local tourism leaders say Central Florida must consider following suit — or risk losing convention business to Miami-Dade and Broward counties.”
Harris Rosen, who has three hotels near the Orange County Convention Center , told the newspaper it is a “certainty” that gaming would come to Miami-Dade.
However, the anti-gambling interests have a powerful ally in Walt Disney World , whose CFO and Senior VP Anthony Connelly is chairman of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
The Sentinel reports that Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson attended an editorial board meeting and said his business organization will fight any attempts to expand gambling.
Spokeswoman Edie Ousley told me the chamber has opposed the expansion of gambling since the early 1990s, and this summer its board voted to reaffirm that position.
“It was a resounding affirmation to continue moving forward with the current position,” Ousley said.
She expected more information about this issue to be coming from the chamber later this week.
The chamber’s board lists such prominent South Floridians as Charley Caulkins of Fisher & Phillips LLP in Fort Lauderdale; Marshall Criser III of AT&T Florida in Miami; Vivian de Las Cuevas-Diaz of Broad and Cassel in Miami; Jonathan P. Ferrando of AutoNation in Fort Lauderdale; Joaquin Gonzalez Varela of Wal-Mart Stores in Miami; Dennis Grady of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches ; Craig Grant of PNC Bank in West Palm Beach; Bill Johnson of the Port of Miami; Belinda Keiser of Keiser University ; Jack Lowell of Flagler; G. Lee Sandler of Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg in Miami; and Eric Silagy of Florida Power & Light Co. in Juno Beach.
Associated Industries of Florida would appear to be the counterweight to the Florida Chamber in the debate. It made destination gambling resorts a key priority for the 2011 legislative session.
“There is little doubt that the gaming industry can help provide the jobs, economic development, increased tourism and revenue the state badly needs,” the group stated. “No one is claiming that gaming can solve all of Florida’s problems, but it can play a significant role in helping to create jobs and stimulate our tourism-reliant state.”
Gov. Rick Scott, who has not committed to the destination gambling resort concept, is a past director of Associated Industries. Unlike the Florida Chamber, Associated Industries does not list its board members, but I outlined those listed in 2009 in a blog post in August.
The Sentinel wrote an editorial Oct. 15 that opposed gambling in the Orlando area – but left open the idea for South Florida. Sentinel business columnist Beth Kassab subsequently came out more strongly against gambling.
She expressed concern about the state’s tourism brand, low-wage service jobs, crime and social ills.
“This is the worst get-rich-quick scheme we’ve seen in this state since swampland was peddled as a high-return investment,” she wrote.
A St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau article says the legislation expected this week would allow three $2 billion resort casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and create an independent gambling commission like those found in Las Vegas and New Jersey.
The expected sponsors are Rep. Erick Fresen, R-Miami, and Sen. Ellen Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale.
The article, by Mary Ellen Klas, outlines how the Nevada Gaming Commission seeks to intensely scrutinize candidates, Genting Group came under fire in Singapore and Las Vegas Sands Corp. (NYSE: LVS) has faced regulatory inquiries in the U.S.
Genting has already unveiled plans for a destination resort in Miami, while Las Vegas Sands is reportedly interested in the former Miami World Center site.
Last week, Beacon Council President Frank R. Nero called for an independent task force to study the economic and social impacts of the proposal. His economic development agency said Oct. 14 it was going to have experts from both sides of the issue talk at a forum near the end of November or beginning of December. No specific date has been chosen yet.
On Monday, Tea Party Miami issued a statement supporting destination gambling resorts in Miami and criticizing Nero.
“If three resort casinos were approved for South Florida, we would see an immediate influx of approximately $10 billion in new construction, which would support hundreds of thousands of desperately needed new South Florida jobs for construction workers and supporting vendors,” spokesman Steve Bailey said.