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Politics

House Subcommittee Not Showing its Cards on Casino Bill

January 10, 2012 - 6:00pm

Destination gaming could face a quick end in the House after the first committee workshop on the controversial proposal to set up a statewide gaming commission and allow three casino resorts.

Members of the House Business and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee gave no direction on how to proceed with the bill after nearly two hours of comments and presentations from gaming interests and opponents on Wednesday.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, who said he hasnt personally made a decision on the bill, called the meeting educational for those on the committee.

Well go back and sit down and discuss the topics that were covered today and well make a decision on how were going to move forward, Holder said. That could entail another workshop, it could entail ending the discussion, it could entail a vote, it just depends on how comfortable we feel.

The House subcommittees next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 17.

The House is working on the bill from Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, HB 487, which doesnt include the numerous amendments the Senate Regulated Industries Committee added to the package before giving it support on Monday.

Were not going to wait to see what the Senate does, Holder said. Were going through the process our way. We realize its a little bit slower than the pace of the Senate, but were going to vet this slowly before making any final decisions.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, called the Senate changes "interesting," but said he is not pushing members to move the House version.

"It's very much my practice not to comment on the contents and likelihood of success or failure of any member bill, Cannon said Tuesday. "It will be up to our committee to see how they respond to that."

Little new ground was broached during the "educational" presentation Wednesday, in which representatives for both Las Vegas Sands and Resorts World Miami, a division of casino giant Genting Group, told the representatives they had no plans to build unless the resort would include a casino.

Resorts World Miami representative Jessica Hoppe said the company's plans to develop in downtown Miami could be delayed by decades if the resort were prohibited from including a casino in a project that the bill would require to include $2 billion in construction and amenities.

If the casino component is not approved by the Legislature, our development of the property there would be significantly reduced and our time frame would be significantly elongated, Hoppe said.

Otherwise, Genting, which agreed to purchase the Miami Herald property that overlooks Biscayne Bay for $236 million last May, hopes to have construction of the casino resort under way and completed in three to five years.

Meanwhile, pari-mutuel operators, the Florida Chamber and other opponents told the subcommittee that allowing mega-casinos will take away from existing business rather than attract additional tourism traffic.

We cannot compete with this mega-casino model, said Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Tallahassee-based Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

If youre not familiar with places like Atlantis: These models tend to not only cut their room rates down to the core, they will also package them to give the rooms away because their money is made on the gambling side. That package could include free food. Free hotel. This is a city under one roof.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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