In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Pondering pays in Big Government

Think of it as mulling for money.

Nothing is quite so profitable in politics as nothing. As in doing nothing. As in feigning deliberation, as in pondering weighty legislation, as in stretching out the legislative process while the money pours in.

Mark Lebovich described the profit motive behind Washington’s infamous gridlock in his 2013 book on money, lobbyists and politics-as-an-industry, This Town. Dawdle for years over, say, a banking reform bill, and influence money keeps pouring in from investment banks, regional banks, hedge funds, so long as the unfinished legislation remains just beyond reach, like a carrot dangled before the proverbial mule.

When important bills stall in Congress, both parties benefit from the illusion of non-cooperation, the partisan bickering about as sincere as the raging enmity expressed by pro wrestling contestants.

As long as our congressional reps makes the process seem murky, mysterious, inscrutable, the more valuable they’ll seem once they make their next career move. Lebovich reported that some 42 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 50 percent of the U.S. Senators now graduate to the big bucks as paid lobbyists. (Compared to three percent in 1974).

That’s just Washington, right? But dilly-dallying has become a profitable business plan too in Tallahassee.

Next week, the Senate Committee on Gaming will begin crafting a comprehensive gambling bill that could allow destination casinos, affect racino tax rates, allow slot machines at parimutuels outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, create a gambling commission, re-consider outlawed arcades, blow up the Seminole gambling pact. All maybes. But while legislators mull it over, in comes a gusher of political money.

The senators will be working off their $388,845 2013 comprehensive gambling study, which concluded what everyone already knew. It has been obvious since Miami-Dade and Broward legalized parimutuel slots a decade ago (and now with 22,973 slot machines, 344 table games and 16 casinos) that Florida needs a comprehensive gaming plan.

But procrastination pays. Competing gaming interests keeping hiring lobbyists – mostly former legislators – and writing checks to political campaigns and political parties and political committees, buying themselves a say in comprehensive legislation that never quite passes. Last year, gambling interests contributed some $2.8 million toward legislative candidates and political committees.

The Seminoles spread more than $900,000 around Tallahassee in 2013. The Genting outfit that wants to put a destination casino in the Miami bayfront spent $652,000. While Las Vegas-based gambling conglomerates, the state’s parimutuels and former operators of the outlawed gambling arcades — all mutual enemies with competing interests — are all in a similar check-writing frenzy. While anti-gambling interests led by Disney spend gobs of money to beat them down.

Of course, in Republican-dominated Tallahassee, gridlock can’t be attributed to partisan politics. Instead, it’s the more open-minded Senate against a gambling-wary House. The Senate talks about destination casinos while House Speaker Will Weatherford complains of “gaming creep.”

Meanwhile, the mythical comprehensive gambling bill goes nowhere. Nowhere but the bank. Why mess with a perfect business plan?

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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