Peel Back Tallahassee's Covers: It's Still a Gambling Year
Around the State
Billed as an off-gambling year in Florida politics, 2013 is anything but. Too much gambling-interest money is circulating, too much strategizing is going on.
Just because Genting's $1.7 million investment in lobbyists didn't buy permission to develop a destination casino at the Miami Herald's bayfront site last year, it doesn't mean the industry's high rollers are going to stop wooing legislative bedfellows now.
As lobbyist Brian Ballard said of competing casino interests last week, "Nothing is going to happen this year, but they're still playing a role. You can't just pick and choose [a year to lobby] if you're going to be a player in the Capitol over the long haul."
Here's a prediction -- and this is saying something considering gambling has barely a bill before the Legislature during the 2013 session: What goes on at Spectrum Gaming's 8th Florida Gaming Congress Feb. 25 and 26 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood will be the talk of next week's political calendar, and maybe even after that.
Who will attend? Spectrum boasts, "corporate executives, gaming operators, elected officials, regulators, vendors, developers, investors, analysts, and anyone else who is -- or wishes to be -- involved in Florida's nearly $3 billion gaming industry."
Marc Dunbar, partner with conference presenting sponsor Jones, Walker, Waechter, Poitevent, Carrère & Denègre LLP, said he believes the public policy panel he will moderate as part of the Congress's lunchtime program "is going to end up shaping gaming policy in Florida." Other panels in a full agenda include "Destination Florida," "The Future of Racetrack Gaming," "Wall Street's Focus on Florida," and "Internet Gaming in the U.S."
If you go, look for Walt Disney World vs. Big Gambling World all over again. Look for both sides to set up serious camp and maybe even exchange shots. No legislative action this year, you say? Keep your eyes and ears open.
What's interesting is that winning is inevitable for Big Gambling. These guys just never have anything to lose when their armies march in. They've spent the best part of 60 years overcoming a bad reputation. A little negative publicity is no biggee. They're used to it, used to waiting for what they want. They know that with every passing year, they're winning more people over. And one tourist at a time, one resort-casino vacation at a time, they're losing opposition to gambling even for moral reasons.
For Walt Disney World, on the other hand, the anti-casino sentiment is a tougher sell. These are the family-friendly guys. They're supposed to be the wholesome folks, not anti-competition closed-marketers. But then all of a sudden word gets out that Disney, fresh back from raising entrance fees at their parks, spent nearly $2.5 million on political candidates and causes -- the biggest cause being the effort to prevent the development of big casinos. We're talking twice as much spending as it recorded during the 2010 election cycle.
Because of its family-values image, it's suddenly harder to hide that decision to serve beer at more of its venues, or that request last year for lawmakers to earmark $1 million for incentives so professional soccer teams will hold training camps in Central Florida, or the multimillion-dollar package of tax breaks it tried on to benefit their own sports facilities.
Even though Walt Disney World employs more than 60,000 workers and generates nearly $600 million a year in tax revenue, the war is getting harder for the Mouse to win.
For both sides, pro- and anti-destination resort casinos -- and the Seminoles, whose gambling pact with the state expires next year -- there's plenty of politics to play in 2013. But don't expect the drama to get much higher than next week at the Spectrum Gaming Congress.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.