State lawmakers explore gaming in Florida

Published On: Jan 30 2013 04:34:46 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 22 2013 05:38:06 PM EST
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

Representatives from some of the world's largest casinos are pushing Florida lawmakers for a gaming expansion, but lawmakers are vowing to move slowly on the issue.

It's a classroom of sorts. The students are members of the Senate committee on gaming, and the teachers are lobbyists for some of the largest casinos in the world.

State lawmakers have promised to spend the year studying gaming to avoid going all-in on an expansion without all the details.

Vice Chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee Maria Sachs says the issue needs to be explored in depth.

"We as a state need to make sure that we have thoroughly vetted it before we reach any decisions," state Sen. Maria Sachs said.

Despite the small odds for gaming legislation this year, mega casino organizers and their opponents aren't taking any chances. They're at the state Capitol making their cases.

John Sowinski, president of NoCasinos.org, isn't taking anything for granted.

"You have to be on guard always," he said. "We have to be vigilant always because if the other side sees and opportunity they will seize it."

It's not just anti-gaming groups opposing an expansion. The Seminole Indians, who operated seven Florida casinos, are also in opposition. They worry new mega casinos would cut their profits.

And they have good reason to be afraid. Genting Malaysia, the largest casino corporation in the world, spent $300 million for prime land in Miami. Now it just needs the go-ahead from state lawmakers to build the mega casino.

The Seminole Indian Tribe and state lawmakers reached an agreement in 2009 giving the tribe exclusive rights to Blackjack and other Vegas-style games. The deal expires in two years.