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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Resist another run to expand gaming

Once again, the Legislature is gearing up to evaluate and discuss Florida’s gambling laws — which, as everyone should know by now, is essentially a smokescreen for finding ways to expand gaming.

Lawmakers need to resist the urge. Just because other states are leaning more heavily on gambling to generate tax revenues and create jobs doesn’t mean that Florida should follow suit. This is one area in which we should have no desire to compete.

More gambling would be bad for the state’s family-oriented image, further encourage a destructive behavior by residents and visitors alike, and cement horrendous public policy that would amount to yet another tax.

The urge to increase legal gaming in Florida is growing on several fronts, only a couple of years after a failed proposal to allow “destination” gaming resorts in South Florida didn’t make it out of the Legislature.

Since then, the Legislature has hired a consultant to conduct a comprehensive study of gambling in Florida. The study, by Spectrum Gaming, is supposed to be unbiased, but that’s a farce because of the New Jersey-based firm’s extensive ties to the gambling industry. Its client list includes Genting, which pushed for a destination casino in South Florida a couple of years ago, and many other gaming interests.

The firm is to release a much-anticipated study on the economic impact of existing and expanded gambling in Florida this week. It would be a shock if it didn’t include a recommendation to allow more gaming in Florida.

Spectrum already is on record as saying that “three destination gaming resorts ... would generate gross gaming revenue demand in the range of $4.3 billion to $6.0 billion per year.”

Further, in a report two weeks ago to investors and Wall Street analysts, Spectrum predicted that Florida will be one of about 18 states to roll out “iGaming” — online gambling — in the next three to six years.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers and gambling advocates are eyeing North Florida for slot machines, wanting to capitalize on residents who cross into Mississippi and Alabama to go to casinos. But that’s is no excuse for Florida to adopt the predatory practices of those states.

Encouraging people to waste their money should not be public policy. Yet, it is in Florida.

Florida already has too much gambling — including horse and dog tracks, card rooms, slot machines, the Florida Lottery, and Hard Rock casinos. Florida is one of the nation’s top gambling states.

Legal gaming here produced nearly $2.5 billion in tax revenues for the state last year. That take is expected to double by 2060 — even without increased gambling. And the lottery is now the third largest in the country; it brought in nearly $2 billion in tax revenue for the state last year.

This is nothing to be proud of. Gambling preys on the weak. It is the height of hypocrisy for state leaders who preach hard work and fiscal discipline to encourage individuals to squander their money in a near-hopeless bid for quick riches. Gambling is a dressed-up tax.

Increased gambling will threaten legitimate enterprises and make the state less appealing to companies that offer high-paying jobs. Restaurants and stores suffer because people who stay at casinos usually don’t venture out into the community.

But the attitude among supporters seems to be that other states are doing it, and Florida shouldn’t be left behind, and that gambling is already here so let’s make the best use of it. This is foolish. The devastating effects of gambling are well-documented.

If attracting more tourists is the goal, Florida should invest in family-friendly programs. For instance, Florida Forever, the environmental land protection effort, has been virtually abandoned by lawmakers. But it could help drive the rapidly growing ecotourism business if lawmakers would invest more in it. Visitors contribute to the economy, and they leave inspired by Florida’s natural beauty, not dazed and impoverished by the casinos and other gambling venues.

Such friendly, wholesome activities — including our beaches and world renowned attractions — are what Florida should be known for, not slot machines and casinos. Why would Florida push gambling enterprises that destroy families?

If the aim is to generate more revenue for the state in exchange for reducing taxes, Florida could take the steps necessary to begin collecting the sales tax that’s legally owed on Internet sales.

There is nothing wrong with evaluating Florida’s gambling laws and closing loopholes that are being exploited, such as questionable “racing” at certain tracks. But expanding gaming will harm the state. There is no justification for it — unless state leaders simply prefer quick, easy dollars over a strong, productive economy.

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