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Gaming casino bill sponsors respond to critics

By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-992382.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – The sponsors of a destination resorts casino bill are responding to criticism of their plan. James Call reports, Fort Lauderdale Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff and Miami Representative Erik Fresen maintain their goal is to establish control of the gambling industry and not to allow it to expand in Florida.

At a hastily called news conference Thursday morning Bogdanoff and Fresen answered some of the criticism leveled at their destination resort bill. They say the plan to build 3 world class resorts with casinos includes provisions establishing control over the gaming industry. Bogdanoff says like the bill's opponents she too is against expanding gambling. But Bogdanoff says that expansion occurs every day and the state can't stop it. In the past four years, according to industry sources, about 1,000 internet cafes have sprouted across the state and they are raking in more than a billion dollars a year on what critics say are unregulated slot machine operations.

"And we don't get any taxes from it, so this is becoming a problem. And I don't understand. I read the comments in the paper and it kinds of blow my mind that people say they don't want an expansion of gaming and they do absolutely nothing to stop it. And I think this bill has the opportunity to do that. If it is handled properly and we as a Legislature take a strategic direction and stop allowing the industry to dictate to us what they need to survive and that is what we've done."

Bogandoff and Fresen filed the bill last week and then came to Tallahassee for a week of committee meetings. They were greeted by a coalition of faith based groups who announced that defeat of the destination resorts bill was their number one priority. Then the governor and speaker of the House expressed philosophical opposition about gambling in general. Fresen and Bogdanoff say their critics fail to acknowledge that the plan is to establish a gambling commission and to allow just 3 destination resorts with casinos . Representative Fresen:

"It is about recognizing there is an industry in the state without a strategic vision and without a recognition that it is here and that it is growing and prolific over the last 20 years and making Florida the 3rd largest gaming state. We're not going to talk about education; we're not going to talk about revenue because this is not what this bill is about. This bill is about harnessing an industry that is essentially hodge podging its way to a growing industry without any kind of legislative authority, without any kind of real legislative control and what you are seeing is that we have statues that are Swiss cheese full of loopholes."

Fresen and Bogdanoff say it will be difficult to get the bill approved. They say they are open to changes to get support. Bogdanoff quips when the legislature gets through with it it will look like something a dog chewed on.