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Genting announces it will back off of a casino amendment

In a major shift in strategy, the Malaysian-based casino giant, the Genting Group, told legislative leaders this week that it will stop efforts to pursue a petition drive to get a casino amendment on the 2014 ballot and will instead wait until lawmakers complete a comprehensive review of where to go with future gambling in the state.

“We are not going forward with a petition drive effort and there have not been any petitions gathered,’’ said Brian Ballard, a lobbyist for Genting, after meeting with legislative leaders. “The approach the Legislature is taking with this – a thoughtful analysis – we think makes absolute sense and we want to be a constructive player in it.”

Genting led the failed effort earlier last session to bring destination resort-style casino gambling to Florida. The measure never made it out of a House committee and was loaded down with complicating provisions in the Senate before it was declared dead.

During the past election cycle, Genting created a political committee — New Jobs and Revenue For Florida — and spent more than $905,000 on voter petition consultants, constitutional scholars and pollsters in an effort to set the stage for a constitutional amendment to make casinos legal that would go before voters in 2014.

But as Florida's legislative leaders announced their strategy, the company decided it would take a more conciliatory approach. 

"We currently have a lot of gambling in the state of Florida, but we have to take a very holistic view,” said Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican. told the Herald/Times in July. “There needs to be clarity and direction as to where the state is going,” he added, and the tribal compact will “very likely” be part of that.

Gaetz created a Gaming Committee, intended to deal with the issue exclusively for the first time in recent legislative history, and named Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, to be the committee's chairman. 

Genting had spent $905,000 this election cycle gearing up for a possible petition drive. It hired Nation Voter Outreach, a Nevada-based political consulting firm that specializes in organizing signature drives. It hired constitutional scholar, Bruce Rogow, of Fort Lauderdale, to work on amendment language and paid political consultant and pollster Tony Fabrizio to start a setting up a political strategy.

Ballard said the company has abandoned those plans because the next two years provides “a good opportunity to look at all aspects of the regulatory and strategic environment.”

A pivotal player in the debate will the Broward-based Seminole Trribe, the owner of the Hard Rock Casinos in Hollywood and Tampa and five other casinos in Florida. Its agreement with the state gives the Seminoles the exclusive right to offer blackjack and other table games in Miami Dade and Broward counties through 2015 in exchange for annual payments to state and local governments.

Legislators imposed the expiration date when they ratified the compact in 2010 to give the state time to take a comprehensive look at Florida’s gambling laws. Renewing it would allow the tribe to take up the issue before before political winds in the Legislature change in 2015.

The Senate Gaming Committee includes sevearl veterans of the gambling debate: Vice Chair, Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, an advocate of allowing dog tracks to stop racing dogs and focus only on card games; Sen. Oscar Braynon II, D-Miami Gardens, sponsor of a bill to bring the so-called destination resorts to Florida, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, a former lobbyist for the Jacksonville greyhound track, and Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, the designated Senate president for 2014-16 who led the charge against the casino bill in the Senate last session.