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Casino bills filed

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Rep. Erik Fresen today filed a suite of highly-anticipated gaming bills that would allow three high-end casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

The 142-page plan(HB 487) creates a seven-member gaming commission and a new state agency – the Department of Gaming Control -that would be responsible for oversight of all gambling ventures in the state except the lottery. Under Fresen’s proposal, the gaming commission would choose who can open casinos in Florida, selecting up to three vendors who promise to bring jobs to the state and spend at least $2 billion, not including the price of the property, to develop and build the “destination resorts.” Bidders would pay $50 million to apply.

Fresen, R-Miami, and Senate sponsor Ellyn Bogdanoff told The Palm Beach Post yesterday that it’s time for lawmakers to step up to the plate and establish a gaming vision for the state instead of the hodge-podge approach gambling-leery lawmakers have taken for decades.

“This is about creating a strategic direction for gaming,” Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican whose district includes part of Palm Beach County, said in a meeting with The Post’s editorial board yesterday evening. “Nobody has taken hold of the gaming issue because nobody wants to touch it. We are an anti-gaming legislature that refuses to deal with this holistically.”

The push for the casinos has spurred the revival of the dormant No Casinos Inc., headed by Orlando PR consultant John Sowinski. Sowinski is joining forces with businesses, faith-based groups and law enforcement officials opposed to the casino proposition.

After the bill was filed, Sowinski issued a press release asking lawmakers to look into a federal investigation into Las Vegas Sands, which is pushing the casino proposal. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Justice Department in March opened an investigation involving the gambling giant’s Macau’s casinos.

“It’s time to ask the tough questions, not fast-track legislation to build the biggest casinos in the world here in Florida,” Sowinski said in a statement. “Legislators should learn more about this investigation before moving a bill forward. They should also learn more about the enormous social and economic costs that mega-casinos would add to Florida taxpayers’ burden.”

Baptists want Scott to say ‘no dice’ to gambling study

Monday, May 23rd, 2011 by John Kennedy

Florida Baptists are weighing in with budget advice for Rick Scott, urging the governor to veto a $400,000 provision for a comprehensive gambling study pivoted around a plan to bring resort casinos to Florida.

Bill Bunkley, lobbyist for the Florida Baptist Convention, has written Scott asking him to veto the Legislature’s assignment for the Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability (OPPAGA).  Baptists also want Scott to increase funding for the state’s compulsive gambling program, which absorbs about a two-thirds reduction — to $264,700 — in the budget.

But the resorts casinos idea draws the Baptists sharpest criticism. The Las Vegas Sands promoted the casino-convention center-resort idea as a potential Miami Beach draw. It also muscled-up its lobbying lineup during the recently completed legislative session and is positioned for a return fight next spring.

Supporters see the OPPAGA study as bolstering the effort. But the Baptist Convention sees no reason for taxpayers financing the research.

“The language directs a taxpayer study via the implementing language to determine the benefits of these gambling activities to the state of Florida,” Bunkley wrote Scott. “Nothing is mentioned in the implementing language to generate a balanced report that also explores the huge social costs which the state will without a doubt also be picking up the tab for.”

Bunkley said lawmakers over the coming year also should work to restore the almost two-thirds cut imposed on the state’s compulsive gambling treatment services, reduced in the budget before Scott from $750,000 last year.

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