In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Many disappointed with new gambling findings

The ground-shaking projections for expanded gambling in Florida arrived this week. The ground hardly quivered.

The Spectrum Gambling Group, hired by the state legislature to calculate the economic impact of legalizing even more casinos and racinos in Florida, delivered a rather tepid finding. “Overall, Spectrum believes that the expansion of casino gambling, whether on a small scale or very large scale, would have, at best, a moderately positive impact on the state economy.”

This was not what the big gaming conglomerates, lobbying hard for legislative approval for giant “destination casinos,” expected.

Nor was it what parimutuel operators outside of South Florida, arguing for their own slot machines, expected.

It was not even what, the arch foe of expanded gambling in Florida, expected.

Just last week, President John Sowinski distributed an op-ed designed to preempt the coming Spectrum report, railing that legislators had hired themselves an industry patsy. Sowinksi warned that “rosy predictions about casinos are stock in trade for Spectrum,” a company that reliably delivers “big promises about jobs and tax revenues.”

Except the $388,845 study was not so rosy. Spectrum did suggest that plopping a couple of $2 billion casinos down in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, each with 2,000 hotel rooms and 5,000 slot machines, would elevate South Florida into the “major leagues of casino gambling.” (Perhaps not the best analogy, given Miami’s expensive, dismal investment in another major league.)

Destination casinos, Spectrum said, would attract coveted high-rollers who now frequent Las Vegas and Macau and the like. The consultant figured on 7,000 new jobs for South Florida. But that was not nearly as optimistic as the report that Spectrum prepared two years ago for Genting, the Malaysian gaming conglomerate with plans for a big, dazzling casino-hotel at the site of the old Miami Herald headquarters on Biscayne Bay.

Back in 2011, Spectrum was talking how three destination casinos could bring 100,000 jobs to South Florida and in $400 million in new taxes. No wonder Sowinksi worried about what was coming in this new report.

This time out, Spectrum pondered 12 potential scenarios, with ascending variations in the number of new casinos and racinos. But the consultant also figured in the loss of $233 million the state now pockets each year from its compact with the Seminoles, who pay for certain exclusive rights. All that gets blown up by destination casinos or additional racinos.

Spectrum also acknowledged that Florida is no slouch as a gambling haven as it is. By next year, Florida will be humming with 22,973 slot machines and 344 table games at 16 casinos operations. Destination casinos would not only threaten existing restaurants and hotels but “cannibalize” existing gaming venues.

Spectrum calculated “a net increase in state tax receipts” but mostly because casinos taxes are higher than the usual sales taxes. “There are likely to be only mild positive impacts on local and statewide employment and wages, however.”

The big report hit Florida on Tuesday. The earth did not move.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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