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AIF faces off with Chamber -- this time over casinos

Associated Industries of Florida, which refuses to publish its board of directors, always finds a way to give us a little clue as to who has given the business lobbying group some of the most generous donations. This year it's clear it is the casino industry -- perhaps Las Vegas Sands, Genting and Wynn? The clue: the organization has made it a top legislative priority to pass legislation to bring destination resort casinos to Florida.

"AIF plans to aggressively lobby for legislation that will allow up to three destination resorts in South Florida, create up to 100,000 jobs for Floridians and bring billions in revenue to the state,'' the group said in a press release issued today.

This puts AIF squarely at odds with the Florida Chamber, which is opposing the issue as its board is now led by Anthony Connelly, a senior vice president with Disney global theme-park division, and Disney is one of the chamber's largest benefactors. This comes at the same time a survey by the Miami Chamber of Commerce indicates most of the Miami chamber members favor the resort casino plan.

AIF has already financed a focus group conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz in which the bill's sponsors, Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff and Rep. Erik Fresen, spoke to the group to test their message. The story was first reported here but the focus group was not on Saturday as indicated, but last week on Wednesday.  

Here's the AIF press release:

TALLAHASSEE – Passage of destination resorts legislation will be among Associated Industries of Florida’s (AIF) 2012 legislative priorities, the statewide business advocacy organization announced today. Highlighting the need for new employment opportunities in the Sunshine State, AIF plans to aggressively lobby for legislation that will allow up to three destination resorts in South Florida, create up to 100,000 jobs for Floridians and bring billions in revenue to the state. To support this effort, AIF has launched its “More Jobs for Florida” campaign, which includes a website (, Facebook page and Twitter account dedicated to the destination resort issue.

“Bringing the destination resorts industry to Florida would be the greatest job creator in the state’s recent history. With this kind of potential, a single industry could help us move approximately 10 percent of our state’s jobless off the unemployment rolls and we could get paychecks in the hands of tens of thousands of people within the next 12 months,” said Brewster Bevis, AIF Vice-President of External Relations. “This will also help alleviate the burden of a 150 percent increase in unemployment compensation taxes facing half a million employers across the state.” 

“Front-end investments made by destination resort developers will provide a much-needed economic boost by injecting more than $6 billion new dollars into state coffers and the recurring tax dollars generated will help stabilize annual revenue streams,” added Bevis. In addition to its efforts in the capitol halls, AIF will focus attention on educating the public on the benefits of destination resorts and marshalling support from statewide organizations, businesses and individuals. 

AIF’s “More Jobs for Florida” website lists information on the high-paying jobs destination resorts will create for Florida workers, outlines the economic benefits to the state and local community, dispels myths and misinformation about the destination resort concept and provides visitors with an opportunity to sign an online petition supporting destination resorts. Some of the benefits of destination resorts highlighted on the website include:

* An up front, minimum $6 billion dollar capital investment ($2 billion per destination resort)

* Creation of 80,000 to 100,000 direct and indirect jobs resulting from the construction and operation of three destination resorts

* Development of new revenue streams, including more than $100 million in annual local property tax revenues which can be bonded for infrastructure

“Since 2008 when we released our first ‘Economic Stimulus Package,’ AIF has been leading the charge for job and economic growth. As we have every session since the economic downturn, AIF will pour its energy into ensuring passage of policies that will have a positive impact on our state. We have consistently supported the concept of destination resorts and believe passage of Sen. Bogdanoff’s and Rep. Fresen’s destination resorts legislation is a critical part of the solution to Florida’s job and economic needs,” said Bevis.