In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Gambling interests turn deaf ear to Miami

Tallahassee couldn’t care less about South Florida.

The good ol’ boys want to protect their way of life — low-density communities, nature preserves, family trips to Disney World, and, oh yes, cheap insurance rates — and from us in the populated end of the peninsula, they want one thing: tax revenue.

What else can explain the location of the Senate Gaming Committee hearings on the future of the gambling industry in Florida in places like Pensacola, Jacksonville and Lakeland when the issue has the potential to negatively affect the quality of life in Miami?

Or have the mega-casino vultures from Las Vegas and Malaysia set their sights elsewhere?

If you believe that, I have a high-speed rail pass to Panama City Beach to sell you.

The closest the Gaming Committee has come to Miami is Coconut Creek (home to Butterfly World; maybe that was the draw, or perhaps the proximity to the empty Dania Jai-Alai). Far enough to not hear the complaints of neighbors of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood tired of fielding drunk drivers coming out of the complex.

The Gaming Committee is supposedly getting feedback on a study commissioned by the House and Senate to “set a factual foundation for important policy choices” to Florida’s gaming laws in 2014.

Lawmakers expected that the study by the Spectrum Gaming Group would find that expanding gaming to include mega-casino resorts would be an extraordinarily good deal for Floridians.

But 708 pages later, the results were at best lukewarm on the expansion of what proponents are now calling “world-class gaming” to separate the Las Vegas-style casinos from the rest of our lot: Native American operations, dog and horse tracks, jai-alai, bingo, slot machines, poker rooms and barrel racing.

But along with the $1 billion in additional tax revenues to be had — less than expected — the negative impact of casinos – “social costs” like corruption, addiction and crime – would also likely increase with expansion, the study found.

That should have put the mega-casinos to rest, but lawmakers persist — and highly paid lobbyists continue to push.

The casino gambling interests are so sure they have a mega resort in the bag coming to South Florida that they’re already lobbying Tallahassee for a lower tax-rate.

That’s right. There’s nothing in plain view to indicate legislation to consider a casino in South Florida is in the works, and the Vegas lobby is asking for a tax break.

Big spenders, those desert folks. And, if you need another clue that we’re the sacrificial lambs in this game of expansion, know that Tallahassee has taken care of the anti-casino objections from the business interests tied to the pristine image of Walt Disney.

There won’t be a mega casino resort in their area.

Translation: With the Legislature back in session, Tallahassee’s back to helping Las Vegas’ Sands Corp. and the Genting Group erect mega casino resorts in Miami — and Broward, added to the wish-list now in case Miami decides to pass.

Tallahassee is willing to protect Mickey, but spare Miami or Fort Lauderdale’s already packed geography?

Not when our eyesore is their cash cow.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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