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Sunday, Sep 23, 2018
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Gambling report delayed but conclusions already known

TALLAHASSEE — The authors of a statewide gambling report today said its basic conclusion — that expanding gambling will have only a “modest” effect at best on the state’s economy — won’t change when the final report is submitted.

Representatives of New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming Group spoke before the Senate Gaming committee to answer questions.

Spectrum’s managing director, Michael Pollock, told lawmakers the report’s main “bullet points” won’t be any different, including that expanding gambling opportunities will produce just a “mildly positive impact” in Florida.

Joseph Weinert, Spectrum’s senior vice president, added that 56 percent of Florida adults already live within a one-hour drive to a casino.

Under the most robust expanded-gambling scenario, almost all Florida adults ultimately could be within a two-hour drive of one, he said. That assumes as many as 23 of Florida’s 67 counties would have some form of legalized gambling, other than the Lottery.

The final version of the report was due Oct. 1 but was delayed another 30 days as Spectrum and legislative staff work out differences in calculating gambling’s likely economic impact on the state.

Overall, Spectrum’s projections suggest “that the introduction of casinos, whether standalone destination resorts, or addition of slot machines at existing pari-mutuels, will lead to modest economic benefits,” its draft report says.

The report runs through a dozen escalating scenarios, running the gamut from no changes to pulling out the stops with six destination resort-casinos over the state and allowing slots and table games at all pari-mutuels.

That all-in option could generate up to $5.4 billion yearly.

Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican, told reporters he wasn’t swayed by the draft report or today’s presentation.

If the purpose underlying expanded gambling is to raise more revenue for the state, “then I think (we) got a negative answer today,” Thrasher said.

During the presentation, however, Sen. Tom Lee asked, “Are we really ready for prime time here?”

If the economic benefits aren’t yet clear, “we’re kind of premature in coming to any conclusions,” said Lee, a Brandon Republican. “We don’t know how this nets out.”

Lee also raised eyebrows when he mused whether the state’s gambling taxes were too low. Florida now takes a 35 percent cut from slots, for example.

But Weinert said raising taxes could work against the state, discouraging casinos from coming here or from improving existing facilities. New Jersey’s tax on casino gross revenue is only 8 percent, he said.

Another issue is the impact of expanded gambling on the state’s agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which allows it to offer slots and house-dealt card games at its Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, among other sites, in return for payments to the state.

The tribe’s next payment is estimated at $233 million, with a total of more than $1 billion since the deal was signed in 2010. If it loses exclusivity through expanded gambling, the Seminoles can stop paying.

If the state just allowed the Seminoles to offer roulette and craps, which now are prohibited, “we would probably, without opening one new casino, have much more money,” said Sen. Gwen Margolis, a Miami Democrat.

“If you gave them the opportunity to do a few more things in their casinos, we wouldn’t have to sit around here and worry about (new) casinos,” she added.

The committee next will hold a series of public workshops. The closest one to Tampa is at the George Jenkins High School auditorium in Lakeland, at 3 p.m. Oct. 30.

[email protected]

(850) 765-0807

Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO

[email protected]

(850) 765-0807

Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO

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