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Gambing on life support after chaotic Senate vote

By James Call


Tallahassee, FL – A proposal to bring Las Vegas style resorts to Florida stalled in a committee Wednesday when time ran out while a vote was in process. The measure, encouraging construction of billion dollar resorts, would have died if the vote had counted. However, James Call reports, its sponsor said if the committee meets again, he wants to be on the agenda.

The sponsor of the Destination Resort bill, Senator Oscar Braynon, retreated to his second floor office following the chaotic ending of the Finance and Tax Sub- Committee meeting. When Committee chair, Senator Ellen Bogdanoff said the measure failed on a 3-3 vote, she was quickly corrected by staff that the vote wasn't valid because time had expired. That placed the bill in limbo and left Braynon to ponder his next move.

"Well, we're still in that committee, so if they have another meeting we're back on the agenda in that committee so."

Braynon needs to flip at least two no votes and hope the subcommittee has another meeting this session. He wants to create a Commission to regulate world-class gambling resorts in Florida. Braynon would entice companies to build in Florida with a graduated gross receipts tax rate. Invest two-billion dollars and the tax rate would be 10 percent, invest less than a billion and the rate would be 20-percent.

"We're talking about bringing new money into this economy which is what we need. I mean we're talking about in one region, one of five, you could have a 2 billion dollar private investment. two-billion. In Miami we have one hotel that's even over a billion and that is the Fountain Bleu. And that's Miami, so, we talking about something that is not really seen in our huge markets."

Braynon said he intends to talk to the opponents about ways to placate their concerns. The opposition included dog track supporters and people philosophically opposed to gambling. Nick Iarossi is a lobbyist for the Las Vegas Sands. The Sands would like to build in Florida. Before the debate Iarossi explained that gaming is an integral part of the mix of a successful world class resort."

In order to fund a large convention trade show convention center hotel you need to have a financing mechanism. The gaming component of this integrated resort would help finance the hotel operation and the convention center operation so it is not using state tax or local tax dollars but rather private equity, private capital to build these facilities. What I think is so ironic and it sums up this whole debate."

Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner has steadfastly opposed gambling measures since elected to the Florida Legislature in 2000 Section 27 of this proposal requires a portion of the money to go towards recognizing gambling problems and to help people who potentially has an addiction.

"Am I the only one to find that somewhat interesting that here we are that this is by far the largest expansion of gambling that is being proposed but we are going to set aside money for people that we drive to an addiction."

Gardner concluded that the proposal was bad policy. Which left Braynon wondering about the job creation policy that the Governor and others campaigned on last November.

"You know we talk about jobs, jobs, jobs. Everybody talks about it I challenge anybody to find a bill that produces private sector jobs like this one does. And I don't think you will find it in both houses. So, I'm trying to do what everyone else was elected to come up here and do."

There are 24 days left in the Session and the Finance Tax subcommittee has no other meetings scheduled. However, Braynon said if it does meet again he will ask to be on the agenda. Committee Chair Ellen Bogdanoff who supported Braynon's measure said she would honor the request but she thinks the votes just aren't there.