The Hypocrisy of Florida's Gambling Foes
Around the State
Let's call a spade a spade, shall we? Florida's anti-gambling lobby has no more interest in doing what's good for Florida than any street-corner car salesman has.
I'm sorry if that sounds harsh. I just don't see a pure motive in it. With the anti-gambling crowd, it's all about turf protection, hogging market share and strangling a free-market economy. It's about money.
Dover is president and chief executive officer of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. And while you can't fault her member organizations for fearing the unknown as destination casinos look hungrily at Florida, you have to wonder why she isn't working harder to calm their fears rather than skew the facts.
"... Look at Atlantic City," writes Dover, "where 40 percent of restaurants and a third of the retail stores went out of business after casinos opened. Crime skyrocketed and the population actually shrank. That's what happens when casinos are dropped into an already-developed economy."
Really? She and I certainly are looking at different information.
The number of restaurants in Atlantic County, N.J., actually increased after Atlantic City casinos were established. A study by Kathryn Hashimoto and George Fenich found the number of eating and drinking establishments in Atlantic County was declining before the first casinos opened, according to a report in Gaming Law Review and Economics. The report notes that “this decline was actually reversed after the first casinos opened” -- and the number of noncasino eating and drinking places increased by 37 percent. (See page 327 of the "Gambling Pseudofacts" document in the attachment at the end of this story.)
The point is, past experience shows that integrated resorts help nearby restaurants and bars when convention-goers spill out to enjoy other establishments.
In fact, casinos can spur the growth of surrounding businesses. According to a 2012 study conducted by researchers at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, “available research does not generally support the assertion that casinos negatively affect surrounding businesses, including those in the hospitality industry. Where research is available to inform some of these questions, it often suggests surrounding industries have actually grown after the introduction of casinos.”
Dover predicts cannibalization. But Penn State University economist Adam Rose found little evidence of economic substitution after the introduction of new casinos.
“... Claims of the complete ‘cannibalization’ of pre-existing local restaurants and entertainment facilities by a mere shift in resident spending is grossly exaggerated,” Rose said. In fact, he concluded that “[A] new casino of even limited attractiveness, placed in a market that is not already saturated, will yield positive economic benefits for its host economy.” (Have a look at "Gambling Facts at Your Fingertips" in the attachment at the end of this column.)
I think I understand why Dover colors the truth.
She and the FRLA have cozily bedded down with gambling interests.
Casino-gambling interests, at that.
Casino-gambling interests that like things just the way they are.
If resort casinos are so bad for Florida businesses, how come the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association accepts significant funds from the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood and Seminole Hard Rock Tampa? Last time I looked at the FRLA website, both of these "cannibal" emporiums were FRLA paying members. That's a lot of casino gambling right there.
(None of this is any secret, incidentally. Check out the "screen grabs" from the FRLA website here and here.)
In fact, the nine-year-old Seminole Hard Rock Tampa, with its 190,000-square-foot casino, is the sixth-largest resort casino in the world.
So, reading Dover's story about the plague of degradation the advent of casinos brought to Atlantic City, I'm wondering how the two Hard Rocks managed to blend into their communities without taking custom away from established businesses?
And I'm wondering how a handful of new casino resorts around the state -- in fact, maybe even one or two -- would ruin their communities when the Hard Rocks were such pillars of Hollywood and Tampa?
The propaganda and the sanctimony aren't necessary. Truth works. The FRLA wants to keep its richest members happy, and its richest members are paying the organization to maintain the status quo.
There's no pure motive here, so why not just admit it?
But, in fairness, Dover isn't the only anti-casinos voice trying to whip up crowd noise for her side. The folks who campaign to keep destination casinos out of Florida live under a very large umbrella of hypocrisy.
More about them in another column.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.