Can you imagine a casino on this beach? One Florida state senator can.
The state of Florida has experienced a poker renaissance since changing its laws on the game last summer. Now there’s a good chance that the state could be become the next Nevada as legislators prepare to consider a bill that would bring full-on casinos to Florida.
State Senate President Mike Haridopolos authorized a report last year on the possible revenues that could be collected if Florida were to legalize full Las Vegas-style casinos. Yesterday that report was presented to the Regulated Industries Committee chaired by Sen. Dennis Jones, who is currently drafting legislation that would allow the state to build “destination casinos.” The committee heard about the results in 13 other states that approved expanded gambling options, such as the $1 billion generated in Pennsylvania and the $500 million collected by Louisiana each year. It also heard from lobbyists for the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Wynn Resort Casinos, each of which is interested in building casinos with attached convention and retail properties. Vegas-style casinos would create some 5,000 to 7,000 jobs at each location, for a ceiling of 35,000 new jobs in the state.
Jones’ legislation, which would allow Florida to build four or five casino resorts offering a full range of Las Vegas-style casino games including slot machines, blackjack, baccarat and craps in addition to poker, is expected to be ready in about two weeks. Currently only some of those games are permitted in the state, and even then the locations where they can be offered are highly regulated. Casino companies would have to pay $50 million just to bid for the right to build a casino in the state; in return the winning bidder would receive an exclusive contract to operate casino games in a 75-mile radius.
Earlier this week Haridopolos said he thinks the chances of the legislature approving expanded gambling this year are about even money. However, some fellow legislators think that the state’s compact with the Seminole tribe would prevent non-Indian casinos from being built, while others are convinced the state would have to pass a constitutional amendment to allow to construction of the casinos. The uncertainty means there will be plenty of debate on the bill, but the possibility is an exciting one for those who hate taking a long flight to Las Vegas to get their gamble on.