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Nancy Smith

What Happens to Gambling If Charlie Crist Wins?

April 10, 2014 - 6:00pm

This should be an interesting rest-of-the-year in Florida for gambling -- the issue that's supposed to be as dead as a head on a King's Landing pike. Look again. Gambling is very much alive.

We're in an election year, after all. The folks who want to see more than just Seminole gaming are insulating themselves from controversy now, while they're campaigning, but they want gambling decided sooner rather than later.

Why? In case Charlie Crist retakes the governor's office.

It isn't so much they think Charlie will oppose more Las Vegas-style gaming as it is they don't know what he'll do. Who ever does? Charlie adds and subtracts policy as he goes, depending on who he's talking to and what they want to hear. Chances are, he won't know himself until he tests the direction of the wind. As one Senate Gaming Committee member told me fearfully, "The problem is, somebody will be telling Charlie what to do and it won't be us."

Lobbyist Brian Ballard said Thursday that neither gubernatorial candidate -- the Republican incumbent Rick Scott nor the Democrat, former Gov. Crist -- likes the idea of gambling for Florida. "But they both have a libertarian point of view about it, and I doubt either is inclined to stand in the way."

Unfortunately, Republican lawmakers aren't so convinced. The scuttlebutt is this: We can't hang around waiting to find out what Charlie is going to do.

I don't need a crystal ball to predict that if Charlie Crist wins, and Scott can complete a new compact with the Seminole Tribe by November, lawmakers will return for a special session on gaming, to finish what they started this year -- legalizetwo Las Vegas-style casinos in South Florida -- add a referendum element maybe -- reform greyhound tracks to report animal injuries and discourage live races, andcreate a five-member Gaming Control Board appointed by the governor.

No way are they going to wait until after a Charlie Crist inauguration and involve the new Democrat in any of it.

Now, if Rick Scott wins, cancel the above.Scott has read the gospel that national gaming consultant Steve Norton preaches, that new jobs, taxes, construction and tourism are at stake. Norton talks and Scott listens: Destination casinos would be a great addition for a number of Florida resort communities that have thousands of existing accommodations, a good airport and a large site adjacent to the interstate highway system.

Charlie might like all that or he might not. He's not a governor who put his foot down on much of anything.

So, there you are. Charlie wins ... gambling special session. You heard it here first.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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