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The Swirling Controversy of Gambling Laws in Florida

Florida lawmakers are looking to rewrite the state’s gambling regulations in 2014. They want to change the industry in a way that hasn’t been done since the 1996 statewide lottery vote.

The issue of gambling in Florida came to a boiling point when, three years ago, Genting proposed building a massive casino at the former site of the Miami Herald and Omni commercial complex. The Malaysian company promised the new complex, which they called Resorts World Miami, would create 100,000 jobs. However, lawmakers resisted changing Florida gambling laws that would allow the project to move forward.

Two republican Florida state representatives, House Speaker Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel and Senate President Don Gaetz of Niceville, are pushing a constitutional amendment for the upcoming general election ballot requiring future gambling expansions to go before voters statewide. To enact the constitutional amendment, which would in effect change the course of history for Florida gambling laws, a 60 percent “yes” vote is required.

Lawmakers contend that issues as important and community-affective as gambling should be left up to their constituents. Other important issues on the Florida legislative agenda include strengthening regulatory oversight over the gambling industry and determining tax rates for gambling.  A renegotiation of the compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida is also on the table, as the existing one expires next year.

Some voters want to see politicians themselves act to expand gambling as a way to boost their local economies. Others stand strongly against gambling on moral grounds. Walt Disney, a tourism giant which draws hordes of visitors to Florida every year, is strongly opposed to the idea of destination gambling in the state. Meanwhile, it seems that the gambling industry itself is divided on one major issue—how many destination resorts Florida should have, and whether or not they should be limited to certain areas.

Either way, it’s clear that the gambling industry will need to continue spending large amounts of money on lobbying, whether they’re working to persuade politicians or the voters they represent. Many experts believe that convincing a 60% supermajority of voters would be a daunting task, even with deep pockets.

In 2014, gambling laws are sure to be at the center of our attention. At Stok Folk & Kon, we’re constantly keeping an eye on the hot button issues that will determine the laws of Florida in the future