The ink has barely dried on the draft business plan of Florida's newest state agency, the Department of Economic Development, when it found itself under fire already over what is likely to be one of the most controversial issues of the legisative session: casino gambling.
The agency presented its jobs creation plan to the House Economic Affairs Committee on Wednesday but Rep. Irv Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat, wanted to know why it didn't include the tourism and job-creation potential of changing state law to allow casino resorts in Florida.
“This could really, really put us over the top and really increase our jobs,'' Slosberg told Department of Economic Development Secretary Doug Darling. A bill to open the door to three casino licenses in South Florida is expected to be filed next week by Miami Rep. Erik Fresen and Fort Lauderdale Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff.
Slosberg continued: "After you spent thousands and thousands of man hours on this, it wouldn’t take much to tell us what would happen if we had these conventions centers, these casinos in our state."
Darling, perhaps reflecting the interest of the governor in pursuing this issue, conceded the analysis should happen. “We will do that,'' he promised. "This was a plan on what can be done now, not what will be done if the law is changed.”
But Darling's commitment immediately came under fire from Rep. Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee, a avid gambling opponent.
“I don’t think anyone wants us to do a study on things that are prohibited,’’ he said. “I think there are enormous social costs in those decisions. I’d hate to see your agency beoce a pawn on casino gambling debate…To me, expanding gambling is not economic development.”
Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, said the bill will likely come before her committee but she hasn't taken a position, and she isn't prepared to say that the new economic development agency should get embroiled. "They need to get some direction from the governor,'' she said.