TALLAHASSEE -- Florida’s gambling terrain is already so saturated — particularly in the populous Miami-Dade and Tampa regions — that the arrival of resort casinos, and even the expansion of slot machines to 23 dog tracks and jai alai frontons, would have “minimal economic” and social impact on the state.
That is the central finding of a $400,000 report done for the Florida Legislature and presented to the Senate Gambling Committee on Monday by Spectrum Gaming Group., a New Jersey-based research firm hired to assess the economic effects and social costs of expanded gambling in Florida.
“Florida is already a gambling-rich state,” Joseph Weinart, executive vice president of Spectrum Gaming, said at a three-hour hearing before the Senate committee to discuss the report. It concludes 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.”
But the most interesting findings of the nearly 1,000-page report may not be what’s ahead, but what’s already here: One in three Florida adults who live within an hour of a casino gamble there at least once a year, and Florida residents account for 93 percent of the $2.4 billion in estimated revenue collected by existing casinos.
The average Florida gambler spends $866 each year — 16 percent less than the national average, the report concluded, and half of all residents who live within five miles of the casinos in South Florida gamble.
The Spectrum report is intended to serve as a benchmark for lawmakers as they decide whether to allow the horse tracks, jai alai frontons and dog tracks outside South Florida to install slot machines in place of pari-mutuel events, and whether to invite mega casinos to come to Florida to build so-called “destination resorts.”
Spectrum did not assess the local and regional impact of the expanded games but concluded that “there are likely to be only mild positive impacts on local and statewide employment and wages” because “casinos would not represent a large expansion of their local economies” particularly in larger Florida counties.
Weinart told senators that because of the proliferation of gambling in major metro areas, “the evidence suggests that social costs will not dramatically change with the expansion of gambling.”
An online survey by the University of Florida done for the report found that expanded gambling could draw more tourists. Almost 15 percent of its tourists responded that they would stay longer to gamble, while nearly 4 percent of tourists said they would be less likely to come to Florida if it were a gambling haven. Gambling fans were estimated to spend $412 per person more, the survey found.
Other Spectrum researchers said that most people view gambling as a form of entertainment and that if gambling expands people will shift their disposable income from spending on other forms of entertainment to gambling. That will result in net revenue to the state, since slot machine gaming is taxed at 35 percent while other entertainment options are taxed at the 6 percent sales tax rates.
But if legislators allow expanded gambling, Floridians would continue to make up 93 percent of the casino industry’s revenues, said Michael Pollock, Spectrum’s managing director. An estimated 5 percent of the revenues come from out-of-state visitors, with nearly 3 percent from Florida’s snowbird population.