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Florida gambling can have you talking to yourself

Gambling research company Spectrum Gaming Group released a 464-page report describing the state of gambling in Florida and what 12 various scenarios would result in.

When gamblers talk about covering all their bets, they can now point to this report. It includes proected state revenues and social impacts on such options as authorizing table games at pari-mutuels statewide or allowing destination casinos in South Florida only.

But where are we right now? What are the rules?

As possibly the only person to be in all 14 South Florida gambling emporiums,  and as someone who has spent more than five years listening to every perspective people have about how, where and whether to gamble, I decided to the person best equipped to interview was ... myself.

 I caught up with myself for a few free moments, was willing to go on the record, and here is the transcript from the conversation I had with myself.

Nick, what’s out there right now?

Well, Broward and Miami-Dade county horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons can offer slots and poker. Pari-mutuels outside of South Florida can offer only poker. And the Seminole Tribe of Florida is toward the end of a five-year contract that gives them exclusive rights to blackjack, baccarat and other table games.

What about the Miccosukees?

They have been quiet out there in west Miami-Dade, apparently satisfied with just slots, poker and bingo, which is also legal on Indian lands.

Who is unhappy?

Everybody! The South Florida pari-mutuels don’t like paying a 35 percent tax on their slot revenues, and say they’re getting clobbered by the Seminoles, who can offer the table games and have an estimated tax rate of 12 percent. (The tribe doesn’t have to release its actual revenue numbers.) The Seminoles would like to add craps and roulette, and are jittery that their compact is about to run out. And both fear the destination casinos.


The Seminoles could lose their status as top dog, and the pari-mutuels say they’d sink even lower on the food chain.

But wouldn’t they have anything to gain?

Heck, yes. The Seminoles’ exclusivity contract would go away, because they can legally offer any gambling that is legal in Florida. So they’d no longer have to pay on their $1 billion, five-year deal with the state, and they’d pick up craps and roulette for free, because no way destination casinos would come here without them. The pari-mutuels would see their tax rate drop, possibly to 10 percent, and they’d also get all the various games, too.

So why not do that?

Well, the Orlando theme park industry fears losing tourists to South Florida. And studies have consistently shown that about 20 percent of the U.S. population is philosophically opposed to gambling. Their interests should be taken into account, and are well-represented in Tallahassee.

Could you make an argument that destination casinos would boost South Florida’s economy?

You can make an argument for just about anything, and that’s what Spectrum Gaming tried to do in its projections to the state. But there are just so many moving parts, including whether the Seminole Tribe of Florida would stop its payments to the state, how much tax the state would charge on slot revenues and how much business existing pari-mutuels would lose to new gambling opportunities. And that’s even if Spectrum’s – or anybody else’s projections – would be on target. But destination proponents argue that the money coming in would be new money, from rich Asians, South Americans and the U.S. East Coast, so what would be the harm in bleeding them in the name of Florida jobs and taxes instead of extracting all our gambling revenues from locals, as we do now?

Would any kind of casino expansion help or hurt existing businesses?

Take a drive past Mardi Gras Casino in Hallandale Beach or even past the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood. The businesses that were there before the casinos are still there, generally no better, no worse. So both sides’ arguments that casinos help/hurt the local economy are generally overstated.

But what about pulling from the entertainment dollar, from disposable income?

Local casinos certainly do that. The bars at the Seminole Hard Rock certainly attract younger patrons who would spend their dollars at, say, Himmarshee Village in Fort Lauderdale, if the casino property didn’t exist. And the BB&T Center in Sunrise has cut back on its music offerings since the Seminole Hard Rock opened, to the point that they shut down a theater for smaller acts.

Would destination casinos affect entertainment?

Well, they’d love to. They’d surely book all kinds of concerts and entertainers, and those venues won’t fill up unless we locals buy the tickets.

So let’s talk about the gambling study the Florida Senate requested. How credible is it?

Spectrum extrapolated 12 scenarios as part of the report, ranging from only slots and pari-mutuels to statewide destination casinos. The New Jersey company has compiled similar reports for two other states and received praise for both. A Connecticut newspaper editorial called that report “required reading by every state official” and a Massachusetts paper called Spectrum’s work there “chock full of important warnings.” And during a Senate hearing last week, a staff member said, “I don’t know what decision will be driven by the information we have but we’ll certainly have reliable information to embark upon a decision.” So if anybody can come up with the data, it would be Spectrum. The problem is there are just so many variables.

Overall, how popular are casinos?

As the Florida staff member quoted in the Part 1 of Spectrum’s report: Casinos are the No. 2 reviled neighborhood addition, ranking only behind landfills.

Will the report make a difference?

My opinion only: It just gives whatever side you’re on ammo to support your existing argument.

Anything else?

This casino discussion is a multi-sided tug-of-war, with the pari-mutuels, the Seminoles, destination casino interests and those philosophically opposed to gambling each having a say. Concluding what is the right thing to do will depend on which party you talk to. And everyone has enough true data to support their argument.

Thanks for the input, you’ve been a great interview. Now get back to work.

You’re welcome. Nice questions.

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