The expansion of casino gambling in Florida will not be on the agenda when the state Legislature convenes next week, but discussion about the industry’s future here is heating up once again.
A group of Wall Street analysts on Tuesday at the Florida Gaming Congress agreed it’s not a question of if destination gambling resorts will arrive in Florida, only when it will happen.
The analysts consensus prediction: at least two or three resorts in South Florida and possibly double that statewide, will open for business by 2020, with Genting Group, Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts the most likely players at least in South Florida. But getting there is not going to be an easy, as was evident at Tuesday’s event held at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood. The annual event, sponsored by Spectrum Gaming Group, drew about 150 industry executives, analysts, attorneys, lobbyists and government leaders to discuss the state of gambling in Florida.
“The Miami market is extremely attractive,” said Greg Roselli, executive director of credit fixed income with UBS Securities. “The defeat last year wasn’t surprising. They’re going to have to keep picking away at it.”
Carlo Santarelli, director of gaming and lodging research for Deutsche Bank Securities agreed, “The problem is going to be finding a solution that makes everyone happy.”
Competing interests torpedoed the effort last year and based on the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting it doesn’t seem like a whole lot has changed. Agendas still vary among the various players: the large Las Vegas and Asian gambling companies, the existing pari-mutuel facilities, the Seminole Tribe and business groups like the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Miami-Dade County’s Beacon Council.
The leaders of the Florida House and Senate put a moratorium on any gambling legislation this year, in order to conduct a thorough study of the issue. The legislature last week issued a joint solicitation for vendors willing to perform a detailed market study, which is due to be completed by October.
Former Sen. President Mike Haridopolos, now an executive with the company that owns Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, gave the keynote speech at Tuesday’s event, urging all parties to build consensus.
“They don’t get along very well in the gambling industry,” said Haridopolos, as he likened the industry’s lawyers and lobbyists to a bunch of crabs that keep pulling each other back in the bucket. “If people look at in a selfish way, it will never pass because there are too many competing interests.”
But if legislation is not approved in 2014 before Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, are out of power, Haridopolos predicts the window of opportunity will close. He singled out Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, as a vigorous opponent.
“What you’re going to have to do is to be is creative and proactive so everybody wins,’’ said Haridopolos, now executive vice president of The Stronach Group, “as opposed to pushing everyone back into the crab pot.”
Gaming attorney David Romanik doesn’t believe it’s possible to get everyone on the same page.
“I don’t think we get along well enough to ever reach a consensus,” Romanik said. “There are too many competing interests.”