Casino bill still stalled in Houseby Dara Kam | January 11th, 2012
The gambling bill that would allow three casinos to open in Florida remains stalled in the House after a second workshop on the proposal Wednesday afternoon.
And it remains unclear whether the controversial proposal will even get a vote in the House Business and Consumer Affairs Committee.
House Business and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Doug Holder said he’s still in the information-gathering stage and is not sure whether the bill (HB 487) will even get a vote in his committee or what the next move is.
“That could entail another workshop. It could entail ending the discussion. It could entail a vote. It just depends on how comfortable we feel. Certainly at this point we’ll digest all the information we just received,” committee chairman Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, said after about an hour of testimony late Wednesday afternoon.
The committee heard from proponents of the measure, including casino operators eager to set up shop in Florida, and split business industry lobbyists who spoke both for and against it.
A Senate committee gave Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff’s version (SB 710) its first thumbs-up on Monday. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, had fast-tracked the bill and is still insisting that he wants the bill to get a vote by the full chamber.
But the proposition is in limbo. Senate Rules and Calender Committee Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, opposes the bill and said he wants to wait to see what the House does before he takes it up in his committee.
Holder said his chamber isn’t taking its cues from the Senate.
“We’re going through the process in our way. We realize it’s a little bit slower than the pace of the Senate but we are going to vet this fully before making any final decisions,” Holder said.
GOP leaders – including all three Cabinet members – have lined up with social conservatives, law enforcement officials, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association in opposition.
Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida United Businesses Association and the construction industry are all pushing the casinos, promising that the high-end “destination resorts” will create thousands of new jobs and pump untold millions into the state’s anemic economy.
And the state’s existing pari-mutuels are flexing their considerable muscle with demands for equity in taxes and games as the proposed casinos, creating the possibility of roulette, craps and blackjack far beyond the South Florida area targeted by the bill’s sponsors.
On Wednesday, casino operators tried to dispel fears that the casinos will transform the Sunshine State’s family-friendly image into a Las Vegas or Atlantic City gambling mecca.
Malaysia-based Genting Group, which has already purchased property in Miami for a casino, operates a resort in Singapore where the casino is located in the basement, unlike casinos on the Las Vegas strip where visitors are confronted by the games as soon as they walk in the door, Genting lawyer Jessica Hoppe told the committee.
“What you don’t see are slot machines, table games” when visitors enter the Genting facility, said Hoppe, general counsel of Genting affiliate Resorts International. “It is more subdued. It is more…Monte Carlo.”
Under the proposed bills, gambling would be limited to 10 percent of the facility.
Hoppe said her company plans to locate gaming tables on the third and fourth floors of a six-floor portion of the resort.
Holder asked her why they wouldn’t put the money-making part of the resort on the first floor.
“You will find your way to it. We do not need to put it in your face,” she said.
The bill also requires casino developers to spend at least $2 billion to build and equip the casinos. Hoppe said her company would make a “significant investment in areas other than the casino,” Hoppe said.
That prompted some advice from Holder.
“Just a suggestion. Don’t put it in the basement,” he said.