Gaming expansion debate heats up in Fla.


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A Florida Senate bill that could allow for Las Vegas-style casinos in South Florida won't be rolled out for at least another week and half.

Anti-gambling groups are trying to stack the deck against gaming expansion in Florida. Orlando-based No Casinos is touting numbers showing Florida is the 23rd largest state for gambling, not fourth, as supporters have often said.

Regardless of the number, Brewster Bevis, vice president of pro-gaming Associated Industries of Florida, said that building casinos would bring in millions for the economy.

"Imagine a convention bringing in 33,000 people," Bevis said. "Those people will spend money in Florida, they'll spend money in Miami."

The top dog in Florida tourism, Disney, is also adamantly opposed to resort casinos in South Florida. Mickey Mouse and friends feel like it would hurt the state's family friendly image.

"I don't agree with that," Bevis said. "I think Miami and central Florida are two totally different areas."

Conservative members of the Legislature have killed gaming bills in the past, but chamber leaders could be ready to take a chance.

Senate President Don Gaetz has voted against nearly every gaming expansion policy in the past. But House Speaker Will Weatherford said he would be open to new casinos if a gaming commission were put in place and voters made a referendum happen.

Gaetz is standing by his House counterpart if they can come up with regulations.

"The question is, are we going to have a gaming policy that is comprehensive and fair and balanced?" Gaetz said. "And so Speaker Weatherford and I need to make sure we lay the predicate for that."

Florida's Senate committee on gaming is expected to have a bill on expansion on Feb. 24.

A state-commissioned study on casino expansion showed that full-service hotel casinos could potentially generate $1.5 billion dollars of annual spending.