Religious groups rally against Florida brand-changing casino proposalby Dara Kam | November 1st, 2011
A coalition of religious and anti-gambling groups are uniting to put pressure on lawmakers in the hopes of killing a proposal that would allow up to three Las Vegas-style casinos in South Florida.
The Florida Catholic Conference, the Florida Baptist Convention, Florida Family Action and Florida Casino Watch held a press conference Tuesday morning to declare war on the casino proposal, sponsored by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican whose district is dominated by Palm Beach County, and Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami.
Representatives of the religious groups objected to the “destination resorts” in part because, they said, gambling victimizes the poor and is accompanied by social costs such as addiction, prostitution, bankruptcy and suicide.
“This is the big Kahuna that’s been brought to the table to us. And we’ve shown up to say, ‘no thanks,’” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, a former head of the state Christian Coalition. He called the casino plan “the biggest brand change” in Florida.
Florida Family Action head John Stemberger, who also heads FFA’s parent group Florida Family Policy Council, named defeating the proposal his organization’s chief objective during the legislative session that ends early in March.
Stemberger plans to use the Internet to expose lawmakers’ votes on the issue with a “Wall of Fame” and “Wall of Shame” and is asking legislators to sign an anti-gambling pledge. Stemberger achieved success with a similar campaign in 2008 when he shepherded a ballot initiative onto the ballot and into the state constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage.
“In summary, we will not sit back idly as the gambling industry attempts to buy out Florida and her elected officials with the corrupting influence of the gaming money that is floating around Tallahassee like a bad flu bug,” Stemberger said.
Florida Baptist Convention lobbyist Bill Bunkley called the group’s task “a classic David and Goliath matchup” because of the cadre of lobbyists and spending potential bidders, including Genting Malaysia and Las Vegas Sands, have lined up to push the issue.
Proponents of the measure say it will bring fast cash into the Sunshine State, now facing another $2 billion deficit as lawmakers prepare to craft next year’s budget. The proposals (SB 710, HB 487) would require casino operators to pledge to spend $2 billion over five years on construction. Genting estimates its new casino, planned on Biscayne Bay, could reap the state up to $600 million per year and create 100,000 jobs.
But Baxley said the casinos aren’t worth it.
“Some things you don’t do no matter how broke you are. You just don’t do them,” he said.