One of the most powerful forces in the state of Florida is the Walt Disney Corp. The company’s Disney World in Orlando attracts millions of visitors to the state, and its deep pockets contribute millions to statewide political campaigns. And when you add a new power broker, the Seminole tribe, which operates highly successful casinos in the Tampa and Miami areas, it’s an almost insurmountable barrier.
That seems to have been the case with the commercial casino bill sponsored by Democratic state Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff and Republican Rep. Eric Fresen. It was Fresen’s House committee that spelled the end of the road for the bill. Bogdanoff had been able to pass the bill through a Senate committee, but the real opposition was thought to be in the more conservative House.
After weeks of cajoling and trying to line up votes in the House Business and Consumer Affairs Committee, Fresen withdrew the bill last month without a vote, leaving open the possibility that it could be added as an amendment to another bill. The move, however, effectively kills the bill for this session of the legislature.
The bill called for the establishment of three destination resorts in Miami Dade and Broward counties—with voter approval—requiring an investment of at least $2 billion each. The bill would have also tightened up loopholes in Florida laws that have allowed more than 1,000 internet cafés to start up and a possible slot parlor in the panhandle town of Gretna surrounding legal betting on barrel racing.
“If that doesn’t scream let’s get this together and put a control on it, I don’t know what else does,” Fresen said.
Fresen also pointed to approximately 100,000 jobs that he said would be created by the destination resorts in a state with a higher-than-national-average unemployment rate.
In addition to Disney and the Seminoles, opponents included the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and various religious groups,
The failure was a disappointment for the large casino companies. Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson had courted Florida Governor Rick Scott to support a bill (although Scott never indicated his position on the bill during the weeks of debate). Wynn Resorts Chairman Steve Wynn proposed a huge resort adjacent to the Miami Beach Convention Center to help revive that facility.
But the company most invested in Florida was Malaysia’s Genting bhd. Genting paid $236 million to buy 14 acres of waterfront land in Miami, including the offices of the Miami Herald newspaper, as well as contributing more than $600,000 to Florida political campaigns. The company also hired more than a dozen lobbyists to shepherd the bill through the state legislature.