Florida needs ‘bright lines’ to limit gambling, opponent tells Senate panel
Jan 25, 2013
By JAMES A. SMITH SR.

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2013 Legislative Session

TALLAHASSEE (FBW) – Lessons learned from Florida’s history of incremental escalation of gambling should instruct the Legislature as it considers future gambling policy, a leading opponent said Jan. 22 during a meeting of the Senate Gaming Committee.

“We believe this history argues for bright lines in our state law and perhaps our constitution with regard to what kinds of gambling are legal and illegal in this state,” said John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, a group originally founded in the 1970’s by then-Gov. Reubin Askew to oppose casinos in Florida.

Sowinski, and others concerned about gambling and representatives of the pari-mutuel industry, spoke to the panel during its second hearing on the state of gambling in Florida. No legislation is expected to be considered during the 2013 legislative session while the committee evaluates the issues with possible action next year.

In a 10-minute presentation, Sowinski traced the history of gambling expansion in Florida, noting how each new form of gambling resulted in the next, including pari-mutuels, the Florida Lottery, Indian gambling, “racinos” in South Florida, and sweepstakes Internet cafes.

Presenting what he said are three lessons learned from Florida’s history of gambling, Sowinski said the lessons should inform today’s legislators as they consider future gambling policy.

“Gambling is the only human endeavor that I know of that the solution to having too much of it seems to be exponentially having more of it,” he said of the first lesson.

“Without exception … when voters or legislators have approved a very limited form of gambling it has exploded well beyond what was originally intended,” Sowinski said of the second lesson.

Of the third lesson, he said, “Without bright-line tests there’s enough financial incentive, enough creativity to manipulate loopholes and create entirely new categories of gambling.”

Sowinski further urged the committee to “weigh all the social, economic, law enforcement and regulatory costs of casino gambling” and to check the “track record of revenue promises” gambling proponents have made in the past, but failed to deliver.

Joining No Casinos in expressing opposition to gambling expansion was the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“There’s a saying in Las Vegas: ‘What happens here, stays here.’ And that’s quite alright with us,” said Richard Turner, vice president and general counsel of the association, expressing concern that more gambling in Florida will impact his members.

Turner also cited the impact on restaurants and other businesses in Atlantic City when casinos were opened in the late 1970’s, asserting 40 percent of restaurants closed and a third of other businesses were shuttered.

He commended the committee’s desire to evaluate the state of gambling in Florida, while urging members to reject any expansion.

Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, said she was worried about the idea of so-called destination resorts casinos.

Related Coverage:

2013 Legislative Session

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