Meanwhile, Genting appears ready to overpower all those forces by going directly to voters with a constitutional amendment on the 2014 statewide ballot. The company is not revealing its plans. But as soon as the language is drafted, it could start gathering signatures at polling sites as early as the August primary or November general election.
“The current effort is still at the exploratory phase,’’ said Brian Hughes, former spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott hired by Genting’s political committee formed to pursue the ballot amendment, New Jobs and Revenues for Florida.
The committee has hired Tony Fabrizio, the pollster who helped shape Gov. Rick Scott’s successful election campaign, and he has begun testing ballot language and conducting focus groups.
Genting has also retained constitutional law expert Bruce Rogow to write the amendment and hired a Nevada-based firm that specializes in organizing petitions.
Among the issues to be decided: How many casino sites should be allowed? Should it be limited to Miami-Dade and Broward, which would forfeit the revenue sharing from the Seminole Tribe’s operations in those counties, or should a casino be allowed in Palm Beach, Tampa or elsewhere, which would undermine the entire revenue sharing compact?
Another key question: Will Genting move forward with a ballot amendment in the same year the governor seeks reelection, potentially drawing casino supporters to the polls in a dicey election year? Whatever the company decides, observers say the threat of the amendment gives Genting added leverage against a recalcitrant Legislature and a reluctant governor in the meantime.
The conventional wisdom is that the conservative Florida Legislature is opposed to gambling for ideological reasons. But the opposition to Genting is largely pragmatic. That’s because lawmakers are well aware of polls that show a majority of Floridians support casino gambling in all parts of the state. And the pari-mutuel industry, the Disney-dominated theme park industry and the Seminole Tribe receive a hometown advantage from legislators as they work together to keep outsiders at bay. They, too, are writing political campaign checks.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida, for example, the owner of the Hard Rock casinos and operator of Florida’s only black jack tables, has given $448,000 to the Republican and Democratic parties this election cycle, (two-thirds of it to the GOP.) Disney and its affiliates have contributed $1.8 million to political campaigns, exceeding even Genting’s contribution, and Universal Studios also has spent $448,000.
Meanwhile, Genting is keeping its cards close to the vest. They company’s political and legislative strategy “is an evolving process,’’ said Cory Tilley, Genting spokesman. “It will come into shape in the coming months.”
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com