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Several Florida faith-based groups denounce destination resort casinos

By James Call


Tallahassee, FL – A coalition of religious and faith-related groups is calling on lawmakers to reject plans for three South Florida casinos. James Call reports, The Florida Catholic Conference, the Florida Baptist Convention and Florida Family Action on Tuesday strongly denounced a recently-filed bill that would bring resort casinos to Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Critics of the proposal say the gambling industry prey upon the poor. And John Stemberger of the Florida Family action says he will keep a score card on all gambling related votes and will publish a Hall of Shame naming lawmakers who vote to expand gambling. He is also asking all Florida Legislators to sign a no gambling pledge.

"In summary we will not sit back idly as the gaming industry tries to buy out Florida and her elected officials with the corrupting influence of gaming money which seems to be floating around Tallahassee like a bad flu bug."

Bills in the House and Senate would award exclusive casino licenses to offer Las Vegas style games at three destination resorts. Applicants must pledge to invest at least $2 billion dollars in their project. Proponents see destination resorts as economic development. Ocala Representative Dennis Baxley will lead the anti-gambling fight in the Legislature. He says he doesn't want his legacy to include allowing the largest gambling casino in the world to be built in South Florida.

"So I am grateful that these organizations will be allied, drawing back the curtain so you can see the rest of the story of what's behind this kind of move, what kind of things can happen. If this was the direction for Florida then why isn't Nevada leading the nation in economic well-being? To step a few blocks off the glitzy strip whether it be Las Vegas or Atlantic City and see the blight. And show me the success in being the world leader in this kind of enterprise."

Baxley and others cite a Florida Casino Watch reports which puts the social costs of gambling at 1 point 9 times any benefit created. Bill Bunkley of the Florida Baptist Convention has spent the past few years at the state capitol testifying against gambling. He characterizes the gambling industry as predatory, something that government should not be involved in.

"We opposed gambling wherever it may be. Because to get something for nothing is basically something that we believe is not a sound principal not only from our Biblical beliefs but practical public policy. We believe that the state of Florida should not be a partnership in activities that actually encourages her citizens to lose, to lose, in order so the state may win."

Fort Lauderdale Senator Ellen Bogandoff and Miami Representative Eric Fresen filed the gambling proposals last week. The faith-based groups join a group of opponents that include the Florida Chamber and the pari-mutuel industry. Leading lawmakers, including Governor Rick Scott and Senate President Mike Haridopolos say there will be a thorough discussion of the issue when the Legislative Session begins in January.