Florida Legislature passed on a key opportunity in killing casinos

February 9, 2012  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

Destination resorts, the preferred phrase for those of us who support casinos, is dead for this legislative session after the House voted down the proposal in committee late last week. In my book, that’s a shame, because it could have brought much-needed construction jobs to South Florida, along with a slew of permanent work for people at all skill levels.

I know a lot of people in Florida are vehemently against the expansion of gambling, but as the Ben Stein TV ad says, we already have lots of gambling and gaming in our state, with the Florida Lottery being the big kahuna. The list is long: gambling ships to nowhere, dog tracks, horse tracks, pari-mutuels, Internet cafés, bingo parlors, Indian gaming around the state and so on. So, what is it about destination resorts that get folks’ dander up?

First, opponents argue that Florida is a family destination, and that is certainly true. But I’m not sure everyone thinks South Beach and Miami Beach — with their topless shores, all-night clubs and anything-goes attitude — is really very family-friendly. I suppose it depends on what kind of family you have. Nevertheless, Europeans and Latin Americans come to South Florida because the culture is similar to theirs in many ways, because the language is familiar and because we encourage foreign tourists to visit and spend their money. But when you get right down to it, why must all of Florida be a family-friendly place? Since residents in Broward and Miami- Dade counties have already voted to allow casino gambling, doesn’t their voice count? Exactly when did the “will of the people” in Southeast Florida get cast aside because everyone else in the state knows better? I thought home rule was best because it was “closest to the people.”

And how does Walt Disney World have the right to proclaim that all of Florida will be family-friendly? Who gave it that license? Sure, Disney is a major Fortune 500 company that has transformed Central Florida into a virtual paradise for kids and their families. But does it get the right to rule over the rest of the state? Can’t Disney just be happy with having the central part of the state, or does it have control all of us? I’m a big supporter of business, but this just doesn’t make sense to me. I think Florida is big enough that different parts of the state can appeal to different kinds of tourists without one group ruling the roost exclusively.

Next, the opponents tell us that crime will increase. And I can’t help but agree, but I don’t find that to be enough of a reason to oppose destination resorts. Isn’t that why we have law enforcement to protect us from the bad guys? I don’t want to make light of this because officers put their lives on the line for us every day, and we should do everything we can to provide them with the tools to be effective. And destination resorts will generate a lot of money for the state and local government, and some of those dollars should be used to fight crime.

Then we are told by the opponents that the jobs will be low-wage jobs. Really? When you can’t get a job, how low is too low? For those of us lucky enough to have a job, do we really need to look down our noses and say these jobs aren’t good enough for someone else? From what I can see, every time a company announces new job openings, it doesn’t suffer from a lack of applicants. Furthermore, at a time when we want people to get off welfare and find work, wouldn’t any job do? Since taxpayers are footing the bill for welfare, I vote to let them get any kind of legal job they can, and if I can help them, then it’s certainly in my best interest. I’ll share with you that a beginning job at a low wage doesn’t mean that you will never advance. Do you know that one of the top executives for Wynn Resorts started out as a blackjack dealer?

There is no question we should all want to bring high-tech jobs to our state, but rather than hitting a grand slam, shouldn’t we try to hit a few singles, doubles and triples while we are waiting for the big one to come to Florida? I mean, Gov. Jeb Bush brought Scripps to Florida, which begat Torrey Pines, Burnham Institute and then Max Planck. Do you really believe these scientists don’t ever want to have fun and go to a casino? I do, and I’m not even a gambler. I don’t really care to gamble because I work very hard for my money, and I know the odds are in the house’s favor and that I’m not a particularly lucky person. But I do enjoy the wide range of entertainment, the restaurants and the striking, world-class architecture.

Last year, I went to an Indian casino in Tampa. When I went into the casino, I was surprised to see a lot of folks who look just like me: white hair, over-age and feeling good. Just about every one of them had a drink in his or her hand and some were even smoking. But you know they were all having a good time, laughing and enjoying the company of others. Now, I know there will be a certain percentage of folks who will use their last dollar to try and win it big, but does everyone have to suffer just because some people can’t control themselves? Has the nanny state evolved so much that now I have to be infringed upon because some other person isn’t smart enough to make the right choice? I hope not, as that doesn’t portend well for the years that I have left to live.

We can put our heads in the sand and deny that gambling exists only here or there, but the reality is that we send a lot of Floridians to Indian casinos or to Biloxi, New Orleans, Detroit or Las Vegas — you name it. But in not a single instance are we reaping the financial benefit of the jobs created since a lot of people are going to entertain themselves with games of chance, whether we like it or not. We can make the money and create the jobs here, or we can send our citizens to another place where they will spend their hard-earned dollars. To me, it just makes economic sense to keep them here in Florida, where, if you are interested in family fun, you can go to Central Florida, and if you are interested in adult entertainment, you can go to South Florida. Shouldn’t Florida be a destination for everyone, whatever they want – so long as it is legal?

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