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Gambling opponents raise doubts about independence of company hired to write report

Despite hours of testimony hearing about the state's gambling industry, and two years debating whether to open Florida to resort casinos, the Florida Legislature this year decided to spend $388,000 in taxpayer money to hire an outside consultant to study the state's gambling market.

Senate Gaming Chairman Garrett Richter, a Naples Republican who has never served on a gaming committee, said the study was necessary to help lawmakers next year in their efforts to conduct comprehensive rewrite of the state's gambling laws. Senate leaders persuaded the House to go along and the contract was signed last week with Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey-based gambling consulting company, and announced on Tuesday.

Now the contract has drawn sharp criticism from gambling opponents.

 “Spectrum is part of the roll-out team for a casino expansion," said Les Bernal, Executive Director of Stop Predatory Gambling, a national opposition group to government-sponsored gambling based in Washington, DC.

“Their phony jobs and revenue numbers will be used to rationalize a bigger government-gambling program for Florida. And then later, like what happened recently in Massachusetts, they'll get a consulting contract about how to set up Florida's casino regulatory program after the expansion is passed.”

John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, a gambling opponent supported by Disney and Universal, and Mark Andrews of Florida Casino Watch, question how independent Spectrum's report will be.

"We need help in understanding what the effect on families and life style will be if we embrace mega casino expansion," wrote Andrews in a statement. "Doesn’t a 'gaming company' specialize in casino success? How can they address the problems of addiction, bankruptcy, expanded crime and suicide?"

"...Can we expect to see a candid study of gambling’s devastation to families by an academic group supported heavily by casino money?"

Sowinski noted that Spectrum's business portfolio includes broad services to the casino industry and Spectrum is affilated with Spectrum Gaming Capital, which helps finance casinos.

"So every casino built is a potential Spectrum client down the road,'' he said. 

“The people of Florida deserve an honest assessment by objective analysts, not a taxpayer funded propaganda tool for casino interests,” Sowinski said. “The Legislature needs to either change course, or know that $400,000 of taxpayer money will be wasted on a report that no objective observer will believe."

Spectrum sponsors the annual Florida Gaming Congress, held this year at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood. Marc Dunbar, lawyer for The Stronach Group, which last year hired former Senate President Mike Haridopolos to serve as its executive vice president, serves as the Congress' host. Haridopolos gave the keynote address at the gambling summit.

UPDATE: Katie Betta, spokeswoman for Senate President Don Gaetz, said in a statement that "Spectrum neither advocates nor opposes legalized gambling or its expansion; rather, they specialize in gaming research and regulatory consulting."

She said the reports Spectrum did Massachusetts, Connecticut and other states "are public documents (available on their website). People can evaluate and determine for themselves whether they are comprehensive, independent and candid. Most of Spectrum’s work is on behalf of government clients. When they work for private clients, they conduct research, not advocacy."

Finally, the Florida Gaming Congress "is a forum for all voices involved in the gaming debate,'' Betta said. "The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association – which strongly opposed the most recent gaming legislation – participated in the Congress, as did the Council on Compulsive Gambling."




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Steve Norton

There is no better qualified firm to answer questions that the Florida Legislature wants answered, than a group with total familiarity about the issues. Part of the Spectrum team includes Dr. Howard Schaffer, of Harvard, who is the foremost expert on compulsive gambling behavior. And the Spectrum Group includes executives whose backgrounds were to regulate the industry, so there will be an absence of bias in this report. Familiarity with the many impacts that occurred in Atlantic City and South Jersey after casino gaming was approved, provides the best case study for the negative issues surrounding casino gaming; crime, compulsive gambling, real estate speculation, mob influence; and the many positive impacts; new jobs, construction spending, visitor impact, tax increases and the positive effect on non casino hotels, restaurants, and all forms of transportation. Florida has many communities that could benefit from certain styles of casino gaming and others that should be bypassed; but you can expect Spectrum to present a fair appraisal of both positive and negative issues. For 37 years I have been an advocate for the casino industry, but I do not minimize the negative impacts, only try to explain them and their effect on the resident population. Crime in Atlantic City is a perfect example, it tripled after we opened Resorts International in 1978, but visitors to Atlantic City went up some 800%. So a resident, visitor or AC employee from the other 6 counties of South Jersey, were much less likely to be the victim of a crime than BC (before casinos). And the great majority of crime was non violent; room robberies, car theft, prostitution and pick pocketing. And since this study is for the State of Florida, it might be interesting to know that several Florida resorts, have higher violent and non violent FBI crime rates than Atlantic City or Las Vegas. Orlando, Miami, Ft Lauderdale and Tampa all suffer from FBI Crime Rates that ignore visitor counts when computing a communities violent and non violent crime statistics. Florida opponents are probably going to dislike anything that comes out of this report, but Spectrum will certainly do its best to provide the entire picture.


Did FL put out an RFP for this or just hire a friend?


$2 MILLION was already spent by the federal government for the National Gambling Impact Study Commission Report. Why isn't that sufficient?

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