July 18, 2012 -
Gaming is a controversial topic and after a recent referendum passed in a northwest Florida community allowing slot machines at a local pari-mutuel facility, the conversation of gaming in the community continues.
A Supreme Court ruling on April 27, 2012 affirms the legislature’s ability to authorize slot machines throughout the state of Florida. So, what does this mean for your community? According to Marc Dunbar, a partner at the Pennington Law Firm in Tallahassee and a Professor of Gaming Law at Florida State University, “if you go into other states where rural counties, particularly counties that are on state lines, or on state borders like Washington County, Gadsden County, Hamilton County that have authorized slot machine gaming, hundreds of millions of dollars in capital investment has flowed into those rural counties." Dunbar also feels the recent referendum in Gretna, Florida that shows the majority of voters approved to allow slot machines at the local pari-mutuel facility, will not only affect that town but also the surrounding areas. He says, "you are talking about somewhere around 800 to a thousand jobs and we're not talking about low wage jobs, we're talking about very good jobs and so some folks will live in Tallahassee, some folks will live in Gadsden County, some folks will live in Liberty County. All of those folks will have very good stable well paid jobs."
Nocasinos.org, an organization that opposes gaming in the state of Florida, feels that more gambling will hurt the economy, communities, and Florida taxpayers. John Sowinski, President of nocasinos.org says "casino gambling, whether we're talking about slot machines or full-scale destination casinos, is the wrong social policy and the wrong economic policy for Florida. The reason is the jobs in the gambling industry; jobs in the casino s or at slot machine parlor come at the expense of income in another part of the state. "
State Attorney General, Pam Bondi issued a seven-page opinion on January 12th 2012 regarding slot machines and pari-mutuel facilities in Florida which concludes that additional legislative authorization is required for a slots-approving referendum. Sowinski states "obviously, the attorney general's opinion is going to have a direct bearing on those communities. We think the attorney general's absolutely correct." However, Dunbar says "I'm pretty convinced that the attorney general opinion was driven more by political motivations than really at the end of the day doesn't have the legal foundation that will ultimately be affirmed by a trial judge."
Residents of Tallahassee have their own opinions on what slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities can offer local communities. Four community members had this to say:
"I do worry about the potential for crime and I guess if they do bring it, I would just want more police officers around that area.”
"If they're going to gamble they're going to gamble. They're going to get on a plane and go to Vegas, they're going to do that so I think we've got to look at both sides."
"I think they are a great source of revenue to the community. They provide jobs. It's economical as long as people are responsible."
"It hurts people who can least afford it. They become addicted to it, they think they are going to get easy money and of course, they're not."
Whether you are for or against gaming, it is already big business in Florida and the question remains...what happens next? According to Dunbar, "I hope that as things move forward, the legislature will take a hard look at it and say that's what we need to do, we need to create a gaming commission to essentially strictly regulate, oversee the activity but maximize the dollar, the tax dollar and the capital expenditure dollar that we can receive from the activity that's already going on in our state."
Other gaming jurisdictions such as Nevada, New Jersey and Mississippi, have plannery gaming commissions whose authority is to oversee all gaming within the state. Currently, Florida has 5 different state agencies that touch gaming in some form or fashion. To read the Attorney General’s opinion in its entirety, go to http://myfloridalegal.com/webfiles.nsf/WF/JMEE-8QFQJC/$file/1201.pdf.