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Nancy Smith

Is That All They've Got at No Casinos, a List?

February 12, 2014 - 6:00pm

Does anybody think the "council of statesmen" backing No Casinos is going to turn any heads in the Florida Legislature?

Look at the names on the list, which No Casinos released Thursday. Fine men, all of them. But how many of these guys are lawyers and lobbyists with a connection to the Disney payroll and agreed to be named with a wink and a nod?Once you get past the Cabinet, you've got former governors, former lots-of-things, but among them you've got lobbyists, past and present.

The pro-casinos organization Best for Florida has it right when it says, "It is important to remember that many of the members of NoCasinos so-called Statesmens Council either are or have been registered lobbyists for No Casinos or other gaming opponents."

For just a minute, let's play a game.

Close your eyes and try to imagine a Florida in 2014 where roles are reversed and it's Disney, not Las Vegas Sands or Genting that wants a destination casino. And Team Disney wants it in the Greater Orlando area.

Where is No Casinos now, without Disney? I'll tell you where. It's living out of a trailer and tucking flyers under windshield wipers. Because Disney has basically the same Statesmen's Council, same fine men, but they aren't attesting to the horrors of gaming, they're advocating for the business and jobs boost and increased tourism in Florida that integrated casinos will bring.

If Disney wanted the casinos, the only question would be, can we get a jump on renegotiating that pact with the Seminoles?

I admit, I'm disgusted with the pretense involved in this issue. It's gone on too long. The "family friendly" motive is a joke and everybody knows it.

I acknowledge Disney is King of the Hill in all matters Florida-tourism. It's earned that right. But it doesn't have the right to deceive Floridians -- to corner the market on convention business and tourism in Central Florida, then choke the life out of economic opportunity hundreds of miles away, in a free-market economy hungry for jobs. Oh, yes, and all the while pretending it's only to keep Florida wholesome for families.

Nor does No Casinos have the right to continue producing absurdly misleading achy-fakey heartbreak copy comparing Atlantic City, N.J., with anything in Florida. Shame on them. Crime is actually higher in Orlando than it is in Atlantic City or even Las Vegas. Why? Because Orlando has to cope with wall-to-wall visitors, not just residents.

Best for Florida has it right in its latest press release. When all is said and done, it doesn't matter whether the Sunshine State is the third, fourth or 23rd largest gambling state. For the past several decades, gaming has steadily expanded here, "growing from bingo halls offering nightly prizes totaling as much as $60,000 to large-scale casinos and Internet sweepstakes cafes. Right now," said the Associated Industries of Florida-sponsored group, "the number of slot machines in South Florida surpasses the number of slot machines on the core of the Las Vegas Strip and much of this expansion has happened without legislative approval."

I said all thismore than a year ago, but it bears repeating. Gambling hasn't evolved in Florida in measured steps. It's been decades of a sneaky hodgepodge of clever and quiet legal moves. Remember,Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis was just sentenced Wednesday to six years in prison for leading a $300 million gambling ring that used charity Allied Veterans of America as a front.

Regulating all gaming under one roof -- we already have a division for the Florida Lottery, so we would be adding only minimally to the bureacracy -- is certainly worth consideration.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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