TALLAHASSEE -- If Florida decides to expand casino gambling, the move could harm the state and Orlando’s tourist brand, according to a new gaming report commissioned by the Florida Legislature.
The broad-ranging report, released late Monday by the Spectrum Gaming Group, found that Florida has one of the nation’s most competitive gambling markets with a parimutuel industry that "resembles a circular firing squad" and a regulatory environment that is a "mess.” It concluded that any expansion of gambling — such as destination resorts — will result in more expansion because "the industry rarely shrinks."
"The brand equity of Orlando has benefits for the entire state" and "expanded gambling may fundamentally change the state of Florida as a place to live and visit," the report said. “Rather than benefitting the state, expanded gambling (especially casinos) could make Florida a less-attractive tourist destination.”
The 320-page report by the New Jersey-based gambling consulting firm will serve as a foundation for the legislature’s attempt to rewrite the state’s gambling laws next session. Lawmakers will also decide whether or not to allow the expansion of casinos, such as those sought by Genting and Las Vegas Sands in Miami, and whether to renew the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe.
Legislators paid Spectrum $388,000 to assess Florida’s gambling market and this is the first of two parts. The second report, on the economic impact of gaming on communities, is due in October.
But the head of the Senate Gaming Committee emphasized that the goal of the report is not to make recommendations but to provide lawmakers with a road map of the terrain. Lawmakers plan a series of meetings around the state, beginning in the fall, to discuss the issues.
“The report does not, and will not make policy recommendations,’’ said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, in a statement. He said it will be the responsibility of the committee “to review gambling statutes, to address the ambiguities, inconsistencies, and exceptions in current law, and to craft an action plan.”
Crafting a state gambling plan has been an elusive goal for decades. As the state’s pari-mutuel industry has rapidly declined in popularity, the industry has pushed to offset its losses by installing card rooms and slot machines — a situation that the report notes has helped prop up and subsidize the declining greyhound, jai alai and thoroughbred racing industries. During that time, technology has advances to make it possible for games that mimic slot machines to be operated on video terminals and for casino games, such as roulette and craps. to be operated on slot machine platforms.
The result has been a patchwork of regulations and major gaps in the law. If Gov. Rick Scott and the legislature remain silent on revising the statutes, “gaming will evolve in Florida whether or not the Florida Legislature develops a plan and puts that plan into action,’’ the report concluded. “Absent any plan, however, that evolution would be haphazard and would be far less likely to address or advance any public-policy goals.”
Among the report’s findings:
• Casinos provide competition but not necessarily cannibalization of existing businesses. “The evidence suggests that casinos are likely to have a negative impact on lotteries, and some other businesses may see decreased revenue as a result of a casino’s opening. But this is no different from what happens when any other business opens. Certainly some of the revenues for a new casino would come at the expense of other, existing gambling firms in Florida.”