Florida mega-casino bills destined to die, insiders say
By Scott Blake
So-called “destination gaming” bills before the Florida Legislature that have ignited a statewide debate on casino gambling don’t seem likely to be approved, according to officials following the legislation.
“I think most observers today think the bill will not pass,” Fausto Gomez, a lobbyist hired by Miami Beach officials to track the bill in Tallahassee, told Miami Beach city commissioners during a workshop on the issue Friday.
Mr. Gomez said the Florida Senate apparently will vote on the pending casino bill but it doesn’t seem likely at this point that the bill will come to a vote in the Florida House of Representatives.
Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez said House Speaker Dean Cannon, a Winter Park Republican, was not optimistic about the bill during a recent meeting with him and Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower.
Rep. Cannon “publicly hasn’t stated his position, but he certainly made me feel like the odds of the bill coming out of the House are not good,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “We understand the Senate is committed to having a vote on the floor. But, in the House, it may not even get to a floor vote.”
State Rep. Richard Steinberg, a Miami Beach Democrat, said the bill’s chances for approval will fade the longer it stays in committees without being heard by the full Senate or House membership.
“Every day that goes by without it being heard, there’s less of a chance of it being passed,” Rep. Steinberg said.
Still, the city manager said the situation could change before or during the upcoming session, which begins in January.
“This bill has a lot of money behind it,” Mr. Gonzalez said, “and bills that have a lot of money behind them have a way of working their way through the process.”
Although Gov. Rick Scott has not stated his position, several members of his cabinet — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — all have come out to oppose the bill, said Mr. Gomez, the city’s lobbyist.
In addition, Mr. Gomez said, the bill recently received “a hostile reception” in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, which handles gambling legislation.
As a result, state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, the Fort Lauderdale Republican sponsoring the Senate bill and a member of the committee, was expected to amend the proposal, he said.
According to Mr. Gomez, the proposed changes would be to create parity on taxes and other issues between the proposed $2 billion-plus casino resorts and existing, smaller pari-mutuels; eliminate gambling at storefront Internet cafes; and increase the casino resort licensing fee to $125 million from $50 million.
“A significant amount of opposition has emerged publicly” to the bill, Mr. Gomez added. “But, obviously, saying it is not going to pass doesn’t mean that the debate [in Tallahassee] can’t go on for the next four or five months in an overheated political environment.”