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Gambling voices speak up as session nears

South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Gambling leaders debate full-fledged casinos

Four parties interested in Florida's gambling future participated in a debate this week in Orlando, and the topic that dominated was full-fledged casinos.

Some experts say the prospect of Las Vegas-style casinos coming to Florida is dead going into the legislative session next week because there are too many anti-gambling interests and too much opposition from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the pari-mutuel operators are neutral at best. But that hasn't stopped the debate.

Among the comments Tuesday:

Geoff Freeman, president of the American Gaming Association: "I'm not here today to tell you that Orlando should have casinos or that Florida should have more than what currently exist. I'm here because of the mistruths that are being told. The casino industry supports 2 million jobs. We're one part of what should be a multifaceted development strategy."

Mark Wilson, Florida Chamber of Commerce president: "We're approaching 100 million visitors a year, 60 million of which visit Orlando. 20 million people live here in Florida. The casino industry is in big trouble and they need Florida. The casinos are smart. They want to be here. They want to be where the visitors are. I can't image why you'd want to be part of a state changing its brand."

"You can't find a single economic development recommendation that recommends bringing in commercial casinos. It's more like a hole in the bottom of a bucket."

John Sowinski, president of "Pull up Google maps and look around the Seminole casinos. Nothing. It's pretty much an economic wasteland. There's a pawn shop, a gas station and a pizza shop. Then look at any major tourist destination in Orlando. If it's such a great thing, then Immokalee would not be Immokalee."

"In the Florida lottery, the voters had in mind a once-a-week drawing before the 11 p.m. news. They didn't imagine it like it is. The only way to stop it is to say you're not going to have any more of it."

Freeman: "Today, 87 percent say gambling is acceptable for them, their friends or others. Society has changed; it's not the same as 10, 20, 40 years ago. There's no reason to think that that's not going to continue to grow. One thing is you go into the communities where gaming exists. The greatest champions are the mayors, the police chiefs, the city managers. They're seeing the benefits first hand. One of the great ironies is the voices are loudest in the communities where casinos don't exist."

Isadore Havenick, Magic City Casino (Miami): "We have no problem if anyone else comes into our market. What we're asking for is really a free market economy — the same products, the same tax rate, the same regulation as those who conduct the same business as us. That's all the parimutuel industry has ever asked for. We don't care who's here as long as we get to compete the same way."

Sowinski (closing remark): "If you could harness the time energy, capital and intellectual capacity and devote it to 'fill in the blank,' we as a state would be so much further ahead."

"My sense is we like our chances to see no expansion. The big question is what happens with the compact. It could be renewed, not be renewed and table games go away, or it could be used as an excuse to expand gambling and we're going to fight like heck that No. 3 doesn't happen.

Havenick (closing): "I expect we'll be having the same conversation next year and the year after and the year after. My kid is 1 and I'd like to not be discussing this when he starts college. Twitter: @NickSortal

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