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Senate leaders put the brakes on release of the final gaming report

UPDATE: Faced with omissions and confusing data in the 464-page draft report on gaming in Florida, the chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee on Tuesday said that legislators will give a month-long extension the Spectrum Gaming Group so that the company can refine the final draft that was due today.

"It’s more important to me that we get an accurate study as opposed to meeting some time deadline,'' said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, in an interview. "My rationale is if this is going to be the foundation we use to seek any policy it ought to be accurate."

Richter's announcement was followed by a letter to all senators by Senate President Don Gaetz, indicating that the delay is not intended to allow Spectrum to change any results of their report but to clarify their economic models.

Legislative leaders have signed a $400,000 contract with Spectrum Gaming Group of Atlantic City to assess the economic impact of existing and expanded gambling on communities in Florida and offer some regulatory options before lawmakers draft legislation to revise the state's gaming regulations and open the door to additional gaming outside of South Florida.

The first part of the report was delivered in July and the second part, detailing the economic impact of expanded gambling in various regions throughout the state, was due today. Here's the draft report. 

Richter said the draft report includes data based on REMI models that "was confusing and difficult to understand." Staff has asked the report's authors to better explain their assumptions. Richter said he has encouraged the company to seek a one-week extension.

"It's a higher proirty for the Senate to receive an accurate report which is reliable, meaningful and understandable, than it is to get something less than understandable sooner,'' Richter said. The delayed final draft will not interfere with the Senate hearing set for next week in which senators plan to discuss the findings of the report, he said.

Part One of the report concluded that Florida has one of the most competitive gambling markets in the nation with a parimutuel industry that "resembles a circular firing squad," a regulatory environment that is a "mess," and any expansion of gambling -- such as destination resorts -- will result in more expansion because "the industry rarely shrinks."

The report also suggested that lawmakers may want to stay away from casinos or it will harm the state and Orlando’s tourist brand.

 "The brand equity of Orlando has benefits for the entire state" and "expanded gambling may fundamentally change the state of Florida as a place to live and visit," the company wrote in Part One of the report. “Rather than benefitting the state, expanded gambling (especially casinos) could make Florida a less-attractive tourist destination.”

Here is the text of Gaetz's letter:

"While the vast majority of the report is in final form, this afternoon Spectrum requested an extension that will allow their staff to answer questions posed by State Economist Amy Baker and clarify statistical tables related to the REMI economic impact model.  

"The Legislature has not and will not request that any outcomes be changed.  As outlined in the initial work plan, the state economist will continue to work with Spectrum to review their economic modeling options to ensure that the final report contains the full articulation of the economic impacts of various policy choices the Legislature may consider.

"Spectrum has indicated that they will be able to provide the remaining analysis by November 1.

"President Pro Tempore Richter, who chairs our Senate Gaming Committee, does not believe this delay will impact the ongoing work of our Senate Committee. Senator Richter will hold the Gaming Committee Meeting on Monday as planned and the Committee will begin public meetings across the state later this month, as scheduled.  Additionally, in the coming days we will launch a new portion of the Senate website that will provide our constituents the opportunity to offer comments for the Gaming Committee to consider as they work to develop a comprehensive gaming policy for our state.

"I am grateful to Chair Richter, Vice Chair Sachs, and our professional staff for their diligence and leadership on this important issue. 

"Looking forward to seeing you this coming week in Tallahassee."