The battle for destination casinos: A Reader’s Guide

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, have filed their destination casino bill that is sure to bring plenty of lobbyists and campaign donations to the state capital.

The bill, which will be one of the most hotly contested pieces of legislation during the 2012 session, would allow three destination casino resorts to South Florida over the next several years. But other gaming operators also want a piece of the pie. Business groups are concerned over the effects of destination casinos on long-established hotels and restaurants in South Florida — and even in Orlando. And anti gaming organizations simply want the bill snuffed out.

Here’s a reader’s guide to the gaming debate.

The Lawmakers

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami: The House sponsor began to push for the gaming expansion this past spring, pitching it as a job creator. Though he said he is not personally a gambler, he thinks the glamorous resorts could bring in international tourists and convention business.

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale: The Senate sponsor has typically been anti-gaming. She said her position hasn’t changed, but that the state needs to acknowledge that Florida already has lots of gambling — from blackjack and slot machines to parimutuel racing, poker rooms and Internet cafes — and needs to figure out how to manage it.

House Speaker Dean Cannon: The Winter Park Republican has been cagey about whether he will let the gaming bill go through the House. He’s historically been opposed to gaming and allowed the bill to get bottled up in a committee last spring.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos: The Merritt Island Republican has promised that there will be a full floor vote in the Senate on the bill.

The Destination Resorts

Genting: The Malaysian-based casino operator is new to Florida, making a splash in late spring when it announced it was buying bayfront property in Miami that is currently home to The Miami Herald. It has hired a slew of lobbyists since then and is pushing hard for the passage of the bill.

Las Vegas Sands: The Sheldon Adelson company has been lobbying the Legislature the past few years to allow Las Vegas-style casinos into the Florida market. It, however, has only wanted the bill to offer one license for South Florida, not believing that the South Florida market could handle three big destination resorts.

Wynn Resorts: Like Sands, Wynn has long been interested in the Florida market.

Other: MGM and Ceasar’s are also interested in the market and worked with Sands and Wynn on language that was presented to Fresen and Bogdanoff on how they thought the process should work.

The Pari-Mutuels

Mardi Gras, Isle of Capris, Calder Casino and Race Course, Magic City and the Dania and Miami Jai-Alais work together as a coalition. The group wants a more favorable tax rate if the Legislature passes the destination resorts bill. The pari-mutuels are currently taxes 35 percent on slot machine revenues, but the new facilities, under the current bill, would pay only a 10 percent tax.

Gulfstream and Hialeah, two other pari-mutuels, are not working with the gaming facilities, but also would favor a better tax rate.

Business Groups

Associated Builders and Contractors Florida East Coast Chapter, Inc.: Builders and contractors stand to gain major business if the destination resorts are allowed to build in Florida. Companies have estimated they could create tens of thousands of construction jobs.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce: The Chamber, which in past years has said little to nothing against gaming, has made defeating the bill one of its top legislative priorities. The group has said it is concerned that a gaming expansion may ruin the state’s family friendly image and could hurt smaller hotels, shops and restaurants in South Florida.

Walt Disney World: Mickey Mouse is not a fan of gaming. The state’s most prominent company is extremely opposed to the gaming bill. And history shows, when the Mouse talks, lawmakers – particularly Central Florida ones – tend to listen.

The Beacon Council: Miami-Dade’s economic development group hasn’t passed judgment yet. But the group’s president, Frank Nero, has said it would like the process to slow down so a full economic study of the gaming impact could be completed.

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