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Amid firefight from parimutuels, Jones withdraws destination casino resort bills

Faced with an onslaught of opposition from Florida's powerful parimutual gambling industry, Sen. Dennis Jones today withdrew his bill to allow for "destination resort" casinos in Florida.

Jones, R-Seminole, said that the push by the parimutuel industry to use the bill to lower their tax rate forced him give up on the effort this year.

"As we started to gain some acceptance, the parimutuel industry attacked us with the idea they wanted another tax cut and I was unwilling to do that after we gave them a 15 percent tax cut last year,'' he said. "They apparently had the votes to ride on the back of this industry. I'd rather have nothing than something I don't like."

Under the plan, Florida would allow four to five casino resorts to bid for a chance to operate full casinos, including slot machines, blackjack, roulette, baccarat and craps embedded in a massive convention resort. The bidders would pay a $50 million application fee and be offered an exclusive contract to operate the games, with the resorts at least 75 miles apart.

The concept was heavily pushed by the Las Vegas Sands, but another approach sought by Wynn Resorts emerged when Rep. Eric Fresen, R-Miami, and Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, offered a competing bill.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos  had said in January he thought there was a "50-50 chance" of the Legislature approving casino games this year. But Jones couldn't get past the opposition from the pari-mutuels and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, as well as the competition within the casino industry.