Is Florida Ready to Take a Gamble?

By: Troy Kinsey Email
By: Troy Kinsey Email

May 26, 2011 -

All bets are off. Plans to expand table games in Florida's tribal casinos could be flushed. It all hinges on the budget Governor Scott signs on May 26.

It's a big bet...With a big payout.

Potentially a billion dollars a year in new revenue if Florida signs off on Vegas-style resort casinos.

Complexes complete with convention centers, bowling alleys, and all the gaming you can handle.

For a state with a continuing budget crisis, political consultant Scott Maddox calls it a prime opportunity.

"We've got gambling with the Florida Lottery, you've got gambling with sweepstakes, you've got gambling at McDonald's where you're pulling off tabs, you're putting them in, you've got cruises to nowhere, you've got Indian casinos, so we need an overall, comprehensive plan statewide."

That's why lawmakers approved a 400-thousand dollar study of all the benefits four to five new resort casinos could bring.

But, the study will only happen if Governor Scott doesn't veto it from the budget.

For all the economic challenges here at the capitol, republican leaders also have the challenge of keeping their coalition intact.

It's a coalition that includes religious activists, who have a big problem with gambling.

The Florida baptist convention is asking Scott to kill the study, in the name of public safety.

Lobbyist Bill Bunkley points to a new survey by the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling showing 17 percent of people locked up in Hillsborough County are problem gamblers.

"The truth of the matter is, the next time you go home and your widescreen TV has been lifted out of your family room, well, with 17.4 percent of people who have a problem gambling situation who are being arrested, these people are out stealing stuff to go back and gamble."

So far, the governor's said he doesn't know how he'll handle the issue:

"I haven't made any decision on expansion or anything on gaming, or gambling, however you're supposed to say it, whatever the right word is."

But come Thursday, he'll have to place his bet.

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