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Casino Gambling Worry Spurs Caution on Use of Abandoned Military Bases

October 17, 2011 - 6:00pm

A proposal to speed redevelopment of abandoned military bases may need to be tweaked because of the push to expand Vegas-style casino gambling in Florida, senators said Tuesday.

Members of the Senate Military Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee on Tuesday gave their support to SB 148, which would redefine land previously used as a military facility and currently undeveloped -- and declared surplus by the federal government within the past 20 years -- as a "blighted area" for purposes of the Community Redevelopment Act.

The designation would allow local communities to exercise eminent domain, oversee development of the property and return it to local tax rolls.

Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, cautioned that the vacant military land may be attractive to casino operators because of the redevelopment-area tax breaks.

A destination gaming facility may be paying local governments and schools $75- to $100-million a year in local revenue, but if they go into a CRA area, they may not pay anything and have a 10 percent tax rate, Jones said.

Development financing of a former military installation would come through CRAs, which are not permitted to collect taxes. However, the local governing body is permitted to establish a community redevelopment trust fund derived from tax-increment financing, a public financing method used for redevelopment and community improvement projects.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and Senate sponsor Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, have announced plans to file identical bills that would allow for massive casinos to open beyond the Florida Seminole land in South Florida.

Members of the military committee also directed staff to determine which properties could be covered by the bill.

The bill, sponsored for the second year by Sen. Larcenia J. Bullard, D-Miami, received the committees backing last year, but failed to get through both chambers.

Committee Chairman Thad Altman noted issues such as the potential locations and future uses may need to be revisited as the bill moves forward.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (850) 727-0859 or (772) 215-9889.

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