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Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

As I see from our Dateline USA section—yes, I read this fine magazine too, almost every month—the bill to create three massive casino resorts in South Florida has failed.

Casinos failed in Florida? Wow, I didn’t see that coming!

Seriously, I can remember the first time I wrote about resort casinos possibly coming to Miami. It was in 1986, and I was editor of a magazine called Casino Gaming, when I got to plant a cool, glitzy Miami Vice kind of picture on the cover, because Miami was going to be the next place where we’d see casinos. Since casinos were only in Nevada and Atlantic City at the time, it was big news.

The reason I remember it so well is that the cover photo was an overhead shot, and if you look at it real closely, the word “LEFT” painted on a highway turn lane is backwards. It was from a slide, and apparently, it was turned the wrong way and no one noticed.

Hey, I was only 29, and things like that used to happen back in the pre-digital age of journalism. We also used hot wax and exacto knives. But I digress.

As I  was reminded by that headline on page 8 of this issue, “Mickey’s Revenge,” the reason the casino idea went down in flames back when I still had hair was Mickey Mouse. The state that hosted Disney World was not going to host gambling, unless it was cordoned off and isolated in the dog and jai alai tracks. Back then, by the way, the gamblers actually outnumbered the dogs.

You see, in addition to fairy-tale characters, cartoon ducks and grumpy dwarves, Mickey had an army of lobbyists at the ready—not to mention all those millions of dollars we willing schmucks leave inside the gates of the Magic Kingdom. Tinker Bell has sprinkled her fairy dust on the campaign warchests of more than a few state lawmakers.

The thing is, I thought this year would be different. In 1986, if Floridians wanted to play poker or dice or slots, they had to get on a boat and ride out into international waters. Then, they could gamble until their money ran out, and sit around doing nothing but getting fat on cruise food until they got back to shore, where they could get more money. (Eventually, those gamblers were too fat to float on water, so several cruise lines failed. But that’s another story.)

I thought Florida was more open to big casinos around Miami now, since they already have slots at the tracks and a couple of big resort casinos run by the Seminoles. But Mickey’s lobbyists and Tinker Bell’s campaign wand won the day again, with an assist from the Seminoles, who have their own lobbying warchest.

Disney is still pulling major political weight in Florida, and those who continue to fight gambling expansion legislation in the Sunshine State always say the same thing: A collection of resort casinos would overshadow the squeaky-clean image of Florida. The latest bill died in committee faster than bullets in a Miami street shooting.

Not that the anti-gamers have a valid argument. The Seminole Hard Rock casinos in Tampa and Hollywood did nothing to tarnish Florida’s image, or Disney’s image. Even with the Seminole casinos drawing thousands of customers, the other untold thousands still went through the Magic Kingdom’s turnstiles and stood in long, sweaty lines with screaming kids for the opportunity to overpay for amusement rides and buy $20 hamburgers.

Casinos have the same uncanny non-effect on life as we know it everywhere else they are introduced. Pennsylvania’s 11th casino opens next month, but people still go to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, they still go to Gettysburg National Military Park (and yes, they still would if there was a casino in Gettysburg!), they still go to Steelers and Penguins games in Pittsburgh (maybe soon, Pirates games too), and still visit the Whitaker science museum in Harrisburg. (“Have fun while you learn something!”)

Has the casino in Perryville, Maryland affected attendance at the nearby duck-hunting Decoy Museum in Havre de Grace? The answer is no!

So, looking ahead to the ultimate legalization of mega-resorts in South Florida, allow me to show you the anti-gamers’ worst nightmare:

“When you wish upon a star…”

“Eli Manning, you just won the Super Bowl! What are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to the Sands!”


Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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