The only winners so far in the effort to allow luxury resort casinos in South Florida, which has widespread implications for every form of gambling in the state, are lobbyists.
Gambling groups from across the nation have spent millions on outside lobbyists since July in preparation for a legislative session that will be dominated by the debate over "destination" resort casinos and their impact on everything from Internet cafes topari-mutuel race tracks,video gaming vendors, and the Seminole Tribe's casinos.
Gambling businesses and anti-gambling groups have spent up to $2.6 million on lobbyists in the third quarter of this year, according to recently released lobbying financial disclosure forms. There are very few lobbying firms in Tallahassee that do not have a client with skin in the game.
The big spenders this quarter were casino developers like Genting Americas, which spent up to $430,000 on lobbyists in the quarter ending Sept. 30 in preparation for a fight to get legislative approval to build a large resort casino in Miami that it is calling Resorts World Miami.
Genting spent far more than competitor Las Vegas Sands, which spent up to $165,996on lobbyists during the same quarter. In total, casino operators interested in coming to South Florida have spent up to $715,979 on lobbyists in the third quarter alone, making their total for the year $1.7 million.
Jessica Hoppe, the general counsel and vice president of governmental affairs for Genting, defended the lobbyist spending as a necessary means to an end, saying destination resorts have the potential to create 100,000 jobs.
"It's important that message is heard throughout the Capitol and the state," Hoppe said in an email, noting that, "we put together a great team."
Genting's team includes influential players such as Foley and Lardner, Ballard Partners, and The Horne Group. Meanwhile, Las Vegas Sands, which also wants to open a luxury resort casino in South Florida, has hired a team that includes Capital City Consulting and Floridian Partners.
When contacted for comment, Las Vegas Sands spokesman Patrick Slevin said the "financial disclosures speak for themselves."
Tracking how much is spent on lobbyists is an imperfect science. Lobbyists only report income in ranges, so all figures in this article represent the upper cap. Also, some lobbying firms may report their income twice under legislative and executive lobbying, which are intended to be reported separately. These figures also don't include in-house lobbyists who may work exclusively for a given business or organization.
Powerful business groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida will also be vigorously fighting over destination resorts, but were not included in the tally of gambling money spent on lobbyists since these groups have myriad issues they track every legislative session.
Casino operators that want to expand in South Florida aren't the only big spenders. Groups such as International Internet Technologies, which makes the software used in video gaming machines, spent up to $410,000 on lobbyists in the third quarter. The company is one of many that appear wary of several bills that attempt to crack down on Internet cafes that offer sweepstakes games and fall under an unregulated grey area in the law.
Dog and horse race tracks throughout the state are also spending big in anticipation that a legislative proposal on destination resorts could yield a better tax rate for them and increase the value of a pari-mutuel license. Race tracks across the state have spent up to $599,973 on lobbyists in the third quarter, while groups representing horse and dog breeders, kennel clubs, and jai alai players spent up to $320,000 on lobbyists during the third quarter.
Whether any of this spending translates into results remains to be seen. After up to $4.6 million was spent on gambling lobbying in the first six months of the year, an attempt to pass a destination resorts bill fell apart. This was seen as a victory for some lobbying groups -- such as the pari-mutuels and Seminole tribe -- but not others.
TOTAL SPENDING FOR GAMBLING LOBBYING IN THE THIRD QUARTER:
- Destination resort casino operators: between $506,005 and $715,979.
- Internet cafes: between $80,000 and $99,998.
- Horse and dog breeders and associations, kennel clubs, jai alai players: between $100,012 and $319,979.
- Pari-mutuel race tracks: between $330,008 and $599,973.
- Game and software vendors: between $550,003 and $689,988.
- Seminole tribe and tribe associations: between $110,001 and $179,993.
- Anti-casino groups: between $10,003 and $49,996.