As the president of No Casinos, I occasionally respond to the progambling missives of an industry that has the same interest in Florida that a tick has in a basset hound.
But one that recently appeared in Sunshine State News is a bit novel. According to Steve Norton, who helped bring big-time casinos to Atlantic City and now wants to do the same favor for Florida, Orlando has blocked the rest of the state from gambling happily ever after [Ref: May 12 guest column, "Floridians Should Look Beyond Orlando to Weigh Casinos' Benefits"].
Yes, the nanny state in the middle of the state has stopped the dice from tumbling, the slots from spinning and the boom times from rolling.
We would be one big, happy Las Vegas by the Sea.
No Casinos gets singled out for its effectiveness in this effort and I certainly appreciate the shout-out, even if in his very first sentence, Horton spilled the beans that I get paid. I only wish I got paid as much as the people on his side.
But seriously, and with all due humility, we are not as good as Horton implies. It’s not like casinos are some unknown quantity that we can spin a gullible public into opposing.
Casinos are multiplying in some parts of the country like amoebas in a petri dish, getting so crowded that they now are cannibalizing each other to survive. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in one. So we don’t have to plot any voodoo marketing strategies.
All we have to do is shine a light on the industry and say, “Hey, look everybody.” Rest assured, when Florida has said no to expanded gambling, time and again, it has done so with eyes wide open.
Unfortunately, saying no to this industry is like saying no to a shoe-chewing puppy. No matter how many times you roll up the newspaper, they’re right back at it when you walk out of the room.
As for Horton’s fixation with Orlando, let me begin by pointing out that Reuben Askew and Lawton Chiles were not from Orlando. Bob Graham and Jeb Bush are not from Orlando. In fact, both are both from Miami.
Yet every one of these former governors strenuously opposed gambling expansion. Askew actually started No Casinos.
Another person who is not from Orlando is Fabiola Santiago. The Miami Herald columnist recently had this advice for the Genting Group, which has been trying to open a casino on Biscayne Bay for almost five years now: “Enough already. Go away, Genting."
You only say “go away’’ when you don’t need what someone is selling. In 2015, Miami set another tourism record, attracting 15.5 million overnight visitors, a 6 percent increase from last year. Have you ever heard someone say: “Gee, I’d pack up my bags for a week at South Beach but they don’t have slot machines."
In fact, there already is a glut of pari-mutuel gambling halls in South Florida. Add a Genting casino to the mix and you’d spread too few customers among too many providers, a microcosm of what brought Atlantic City crashing down. The casino sellers just look at the rubble and say, “Carry on."
The reason international gambling outfits like Genting are so desperate to tap Florida is because they are tapped out everywhere else. Google “casino saturation’’ and see for yourself.
A common myth perpetuated by the industry is that more and bigger casinos spur economic development and create jobs.
In fact, the state’s chief economist has dismissed that argument. Casinos don’t create new business. They simply divert money that would have been spent elsewhere to slot machines and card tables.
In its comprehensive analysis of the Florida gambling market, the Spectrum Gaming Group reported that 93 percent of revenues from an expanded casino market would come from residents, not a stampede of high rollers flying in from around the globe. That means little economic benefit, no significant number of new jobs and no increases in local salaries.
This is all public record, not No Casino spin.
But for argument’s sake, why not? Why not open the door to more casinos? Here is my answer: Casinos create gambling addiction and then profit from it. Research indicates that living close to a casino doubles the chance of someone becoming a problem gambler, with a third or more of casino revenues coming from such problem gamblers.
There also is growing research about the addictive nature of high-tech slot machines, which actually can transfix players in a zone, dribbling out just enough small winnings to keep them pumping in more money. It’s all about increasing seat time to maximize losses.
As people are converted to problem gamblers, they become more prone to higher rates of suicide, divorce, crime and bankruptcy.
What does it tell you that in 2014, the casino industry undertook an effort to stop parents from abandoning their children in parked cars while they gamble?
Or that the FBI’s Boston office warned the growth of the casino industry in the region could lead to an increase in organized crime and public corruption.
No Casinos and Orlando are not Steve Norton’s problem.
His product is his problem.
John Sowinski is president of No Casinos, a long-standing campaign to stop the expansion of gambling in Florida.