Industry officials, experts and members of the public travelled to Tallahassee on Monday to offer feedback on a new report examining the potential economic and social impacts of expanded gambling in Florida.
The report, by the New Jersey-based research firm Spectrum, found that additional casinos would have a “moderately positive impact” on the state economy and could create tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs.
The social costs would be minimal, the authors concluded, “especially since gambling opportunities are already widespread across Florida.”
The speakers at Monday’s Senate hearing had varying viewpoints on the study.
Terry Kasberg, a real estate broker and internet café owner from Spring Hill, said big casinos would hurt local restaurants owners and hotel operators.
“It’s like putting a Super Wal-Mart into a small town and watching the other little stores just go bye-bye,” Kasberg said.
But Nick Iarossi, a lobbyist for the casino company Las Vegas Sands, said a destination casino would not cannibalize surrounding businesses. Iarossi recommended state lawmakers allow casino operators to compete for a limited number of destination-casino permits. He also wants the state to better regulate the industry.
“My client would advocate for a strong regulatory environment here with the addition of a gaming commission, similar to what Nevada or New Jersey has,” he said.
Iarossi said Las Vegas Sands was hoping to set up shop in South Florida.
The tart reply from Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami: “Don’t come to Miami-Dade County, my friend.”
Other speakers expressed a similar distaste for casinos.
Sergeant Wiley Meggs, of the Florida Sheriffs Association, said new casinos would cause the crime rate to spike.
“Any time you get a casino, you end up with higher rates of burglary and theft, higher [rates of] fraud and more violent crimes…” Meggs said. “The brunt of it falls on local law enforcement.”
Jennifer Campbell, of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, implored the committee to consider the problem of compulsive gambling.
Adam Giery, of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, raised concerns about Florida's "family-friendly brand."
"We as a business community must stand and do everything we can to protect that brand,” he said.
A handful of other speakers addressed how new laws would affect racinos and pari-mutuels.
When the public testimony finished, the members Senate Committee on Gaming declined to weigh in.
The meeting was one of several recent public hearings on gambling. The committee solicited public input in Coconut Creek and Lakeland last month. Additional hearings are scheduled for Pensacola on Nov. 14 and Jacksonville on Nov. 15.
Sen. Garrett Richter, the Naples Republican who chairs the gaming panel, said the public comments have run the gamut.
"It's like succotash," he said. "There's peas, there's carrots. I don't have any sense that the committee, at this point, is developing a united front on a solution."
He added: "The work in front of us is not going to be obvious. It is going to be a challenge. But I think the committee is up for the challenge."