Keep ‘gambling creep’ out of Florida

Cliff Bosler / MCT

Gambling creep. That could mean a couple of things, but for the purposes of this column, it’s what happens every time gambling is expanded. We end up getting more gambling, less control and less revenue than promised.

Some lawyers and lobbyists spend entire careers trying to find, or to plant, the next great loophole in legislation or regulations, to allow more “gambling creep.” That’s why the scheme cooked up by the Malaysian casino conglomerate called Genting and Gulfstream racetrack should be stopped in its tracks (so to speak).

In 2004, Florida voters approved by the narrowest of margins — 50.8 percent — an amendment to allow slot machines in seven existing tracks and frontons in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Voters in both counties ultimately authorized them in separate local votes — again with the same restriction that they be limited to existing tracks and frontons.

Of course, slots then crept into tribal facilities, since federal law allows Native American tribes to operate whatever types of gambling are otherwise legal in a state.

But now Genting wants in on the action, so it has made a deal with Gulfstream track to try to move slot machines from Gulfstream’s facility, licensed in Broward County, to Genting’s property in downtown Miami.

Genting continues to grasp at straws, trying to do something, anything, to get its foot in the door in Florida. That’s because in 2011 the company made a bad bet. The company bet that it could spend hundreds of millions of dollars on downtown Miami real estate and that the Florida Legislature would oblige by legalizing Vegas-style gambling.

A lot of Floridians were under Genting’s ether for a few months before the magnitude of what Genting sought — to build the biggest casino in the world — began to sink in. What also sank in was what the impact of Genting’s gambling colossus would be on downtown Miami and beyond. Nothing on this scale has ever been attempted, and the track record of casinos going into existing economies is not good.

Just look at Atlantic City, where 40 percent of the restaurants and a third of the retail stores went out of business after casinos opened. But from a standpoint of Genting’s corporate balance sheet, the company no doubt thinks its Miami investment is too big to fail.

I guess if Genting can’t get some kind of gambling going in Miami, heads might roll because that’s what the corporate overlords were promised. So they are willing to thumb their noses at pretty much anybody — Florida voters, Miami-Dade voters, Broward voters, the Legislature and the gambling regulators — to try to cover their bad bet. Only the gambling industry is this audacious.

As for gall, the same Genting that famously (and laughably) promised to create 100,000 jobs for Floridians is now is suing the federal government to use cheaper foreign labor on its cruises out of Miami. Yes, a Malaysian-owned company is suing our government in an attempt to exploit lower-wage foreign workers instead of employing locals.

Florida’s legislators should stand up to this gambling creep (double entendre intended), and tell Genting what was promised to voters will not be ignored.

John Sowinski is president of

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