epresentative Ellyn Bogdanoff said if the Seminole gambling deal were ratified, "they are going to become a destination location and we're going to be left out of the revenue stream." She and other legislators floated an alternative in Tallahassee on Monday: authorize casino games in counties that want them. The state could do it in a "tasteful way, so we don't become a [gambling] strip of ick."
"As anti-gaming as I was, it's here, and it's not going away," Bogdanoff said. "You go to Plan B, which is free market."
Representative Alan Hays proposed that the state create a gambling commission and contract with private operators to run casinos, similar to how the state runs the us$ 4 billion-a-year Lottery. That would allow the state to keep a larger share of casino profits, he said. "We can compete head on with the tribe," he said. "We need to say absolutely no to this compact; period."
The House committee on Seminole gambling met Monday for the first time since Governor Charlie Crist retooled the Indian casino deal offered by the Legislature in May. After getting a side-by-side comparison of the two deals, legislators said the governor's proposal is going nowhere, largely because it precludes pari-mutuel facilities from getting new gambling games.
Legislators, though, were eager to talk about another idea: competing with the tribe's popular Hard Rock casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, by giving pari-mutuels or other gambling sites table games.
Bogdanoff noted a "lot of America likes to gamble" and the state could attract major conventions to casino-hotel sites. "It's not about how do we limit gaming, it's how do we harness it to make it a part of the economy of this state in a tasteful way," she said.
Voters should have a choice on whether to expand gambling in their communities, legislators from both parties said. That would likely require a statewide vote to authorize expanded gambling in the state constitution. Then individual communities could hold blackjack referendums.
Florida's gambling industry tops us$ 7 billion a year, including revenues from the Lottery, eight tribal casinos and 27 pari-mutuel facilities. But blackjack is still illegal under state law. So are other Vegas games like roulette and craps.
Embracing casino gambling "will change the future of Florida, so the residents of Florida should have a vote," said Representative. Joseph Abruzzo. There are signs the Republican-led Legislature, which has resisted gambling expansion, is softening to the idea.
"It certainly would be an easier vote [for legislators] than it was in the past," said Representative Bill Galvano, predicting Crist's deal restricting casinos to tribal lands wouldn't pass. "Are we at a point here we have to look elsewhere ? The answer is yes.