The bill that would bring up to three destination casinos is in legislators’ hands in Tallahassee, but that doesn’t mean groups on both sides of the debate are sitting here being mum.
Just this week, there’s been word from casino supporters Tea Party Miami and the Associated Builders and Contractors Florida East Coast Chapter, while No Casinos Florida held a news conference Wednesday in Miami speaking out against it.
No Casinos released a study that predicts crime would rise 8 to 12 percent if two destination casinos were added, and the cost to imprison the perpetrators (mostly from robberies and thefts) would be $3 billion for 10 years.
“Our community needs to focus on the harsh realities,” said Dan Gelber, a former state senator, who ran for attorney general but lost to Pam Bondi.
The numbers were based on 23 academic studies, Gelber said, and does not include costs for victims of crime, police, prosecutions or the court system. They also note that only 2 to 10 percent of criminals actually serve prison time.
Businessman Norman Braman and Roberto “Bob” Martinez, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, also represented No Casinos at the news conference at the Miami-Dade College Wolfson campus. They point out that their study covers only Miami-Dade, but suggest the casinos could also increase crime in Broward and even Palm Beach counties.
Here's a link to the study.
Jessica Hoppe, general counsel for Resorts World Miami, responded: “Special interest groups opposing destination resorts continue turning to scare tactics to misinform the public and advance their own motives, despite the fact that Florida voters have supported gaming measures time and again…Today’s publicity stunt is condemnable attempt to manipulate the community through scare tactics. The true objective of this group is to deny the voters of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties an opportunity to have a say on the destination resorts issue.”
The destination casino bill has been amended to include a referendum.
Hoppe referred to a statement by Frank Fahrenkopf of the American Gaming Association, who said, “many peer reviewed studies have no connection between casinos and crime, divorce and other problems….”
Meanwhile, Tea Party Miami (that link takes you to their comments) this week pointed to a poll conducted by Florida International University’s Dario Moreno, which said 59 percent of residents supported adding three destination casinos
“Overall, Miami residents vote yes for destination resort casinos, and the jobs and economic prosperity they will bring,” the release said.
They also pooh-poohed the No Casinos press conference Wednesday, with: “Unemployment causes crime. Casinos cause employment. The only correlation that can truthfully be made between crime and casinos are that casinos, if anything, reduce unemployment rates and the crimes that are caused from joblessness, hopelessness and despair.”
And Guy Lewis, like Martinez a former U.S. attorney, said, "There is too much potential for jobs and real economic growth to simply dismiss a project on the bases of an unfounded concern,” via a release from Floridians for Jobs and Prosperity, Inc.
Also this week, Carol Bowen, vice president for government affairs for a group of about 600 commercial builders in South Florida, noted that with her industry unemployment rising about 20 percent, the casinos would provide a needed employment boost – with the money then being recirculated four times over.
“Our general message is our industry is probably one of the top five economic drivers for Florida,” she said. “If we can take any measure to put construction back to work at anywhere near the levels they used to be, we’d be doing a really good service for Floridians.”
But meanwhile in Tallahassee, where the actual decision-making is taking place, the bill faces challenges. It has yet to clear a committee in the House, and made it through only one Senate committee – after some amendments that upset the sponsor, Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale. Gelber acknowledged that the No Casinos press conference was timed to precede the House discussion.
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