A bill that would have authorized three mega-casinos in Florida and changed dozens of other gambling rules is dead.
“As long as I am the chairman of the House Rules Committee, this bill is dead for this year,” Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, said Friday.
The bill was killed when sponsor Erik Fresen, R-Miami, couldn’t find enough yes votes in the House Business and Consumer Affairs Committee. He asked for a postponement, which triggered Aubuchon’s reaction.
This means that whatever action is taken in the Senate is moot. The Senate’s version of the bill had already passed a key committee and Senate President Mike Haridopolos had promised an up or down vote on the Senate floor.
Friday’s decision will have no impact on a referendum that will be on the Lee County ballot in November. It will ask residents if they want to allow slot machines at Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing & Poker in Bonita Springs. That is a separate issue involving now licensed pari-mutuels.
Voters said yes to allow slot machines in Gadsden and Washington counties Tuesday. If those licenses are denied, as expected following an opinion from Attorney General Pam Bondi, track officials in the Panhandle have said they are ready to file suit.
“I think today the Legislature showed that they want to make sure local existing businesses survive,” said Izzy Havenick, whose family owns the Naples-Fort Myers complex. “The dog track has been doing business in Lee County for over 50 years and we look forward to bringing this issue before the voters.
“We hope that Lee County residents allow us to introduce a new product to our facility that will enable us to employ over 500 people and create a new revenue source for both Bonita Springs and Lee County.”
Known as the “Destination Resorts Bill,” the legislation killed Friday has been a lightning rod for numerous groups, both pro and con, since Fresen and Senate sponsor Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, began making their sales pitches last year.
The byproduct of allowing an expansion of casinos, the lawmakers said, would be the creation of thousands of jobs, both in the construction and hospitality industries.
Opponents contended it would elevate crime and negatively impact Florida’s family driven tourism image.
“Today’s action on the casino gambling bill is a resounding victory for those of us who have opposed this assault on Florida’s family friendly economy,” Aubuchon said. “Casino gambling was never about jobs. This was about casino bosses getting richer on the back of Florida’s families.”
In addition to allowing three casino resorts, Fresen’s bill, among other things, would have banned Internet cafes and lowered pari-mutuel tax rates.
“I had a pretty good instinct that it was probably the right move,” Fresen said after asking for the postponement. One lobbyist speculated that as many as 10 of the 15 members of the business affairs subcommittee would have voted no.
“Let’s recognize at the very least,” Fresen said, “that there’s something that needs to be done on gaming in the state of Florida … elimination is simply a fool’s dream and it will never happen in this state, unfortunately.”
The Havenick family also owns the Magic City Casino in Miami. Izzy Havenick said that building a $2 billion resort casino just two miles from his dog track and casino would likely push them out of business.
“Probably quickly,” Havenick said after the committee meeting.
Mike Horn, president of Champion Development, the company hoping to get in the resort casino business east of I-75 between Colonial Boulevard and State Road 82, said he wasn’t surprised about the House’s action.
“We are proceeding with our plans,” Horn said. “If the citizens of Lee County want it, we don’t want them to forget about us.”
Champion is in the midst of mailing thousands of petitions to Lee County voters, asking for their support to get on November’s ballot.
Most of Florida’s residents are likely satisfied that the Legislature won’t be dealing with the issue this year. A recent poll by Mason-Dixon showed that 81 percent of likely voters said that any proposed changes to state gambling laws should be decided in a statewide referendum, not by state lawmakers.
“People are saying they don’t like the idea of something this big being a backroom political deal,” said Brad Coker, whose company conducted the survey. “Instead, they’re saying, ‘We want to be able to decide this ourselves and weigh the merits.’”
Though Senate was to proceed with proposal, House committee didn't have the necessay votes.
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