Coalition Building – Faith Based Groups Join Forces

Published on Sunshine State News (http://www.sunshinestatenews.com)
Faith-Based Leaders Launch Effort to Oppose Casinos in Florida

Kevin Derby Posted: November 1, 2011 1:35 PM
Supporters of expanded gambling and casino operations in Florida can expect a fight in 2012.

That was the message from leaders of faith-based and anti-casino groups who held a media event in Tallahassee on

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Tuesday to announce their opposition to a bill backed by Sen. Ellyn Bogdnoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, that would open the door to large casinos being set up in the Sunshine State.

Conservative leader John Stemberger from Florida Family Action drew a line in the sand and promised to fight any attempts to expand gambling in the state. He was joined by representatives from the Florida Baptist Convention, Florida Casino Watch and the Florida Catholic Conference. They were also joined by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, one of the leading social conservatives in the Florida Legislature, and Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview.

“We are here today to make clear our public opposition to any expansion of gambling in Florida and more specifically to announce that our opposition to casinos will be our No. 1 legislative priority this session,” Stemberger said. “Gambling is bad politics, bad policy and bad economics.”

Michael McCarron, executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference, agreed with Stemberger that expanded casinos would be bad for the Sunshine State.

“Our opposition today is especially based on our belief that expansion of casino gambling will victimize the poor and encourage addictive gambling,” McCarron said. “We are concerned that as gambling revenue increases, reliance upon an unstable form of revenue would depend upon those who are addicted to gambling, many of whom are already among the ranks of the poorest in the community. Needy individuals are particularly vulnerable to the lure of the casino and the promise of great fortune. For those who are struggling to make ends meet, casino gambling can provide an attractive means to relieve financial burdens, which ultimately only leads to crushing debt and personal crisis.”

The casino opponents insisted that Floridians did not want casinos in the Sunshine State. Stemberger pointed to a poll from the Hill Research Group that found that only 20 percent of Floridians wanted to expand casino operations while 77 percent wanted the same levels of legalized gambling or wanted to see it reduced in the Sunshine State.

“Some in this Legislature are proposing to sell Florida to the highest bidder,” said Bill Bunkley, legislative consultant to the Florida Baptist Convention. “I hope the people rise up and tell those legislators she is not for sale.”

“We will not sit back idly as the gambling industry attempts to buy out Florida and her elected officials with the corrupting influence of the gaming money that is floating around Tallahassee like a bad flu bug,” Stemberger said.

Promising to hold the Legislature accountable, Stemberger announced his group will grade legislators on their votes and will ask them to sign a pledge to oppose casinos. Stemberger announced on Tuesday that his organization will also see which legislators receive the financial support of the gambling industry and their PACs. He also promised to work with “center-left organizations, both faith-based and otherwise, to join us in opposing casinos in Florida.”

“We need to build on the strengths of our people — not their weaknesses,” Baxley said, calling the proposal a “terrible omen” for the state’s future.

The casino opponents argued that increased gambling would not help the state’s economy. Baxley, the former head of the state’s Christian Coalition who represents parts of Marion County, pointed to Nevada which has struggled with a high unemployment rate in recent years.

“No wealth is created in gambling,” said Stemberger. “Every dollar spent invested in ‘chance’ is a dollar that is not spent at a Publix grocery store, at a Darden Restaurant or at a Disney theme park, thereby further weakening Florida’s economy.”

“Some members in the Legislature are touting and promoting that more state-sponsored gambling will improve our economy and provide additional revenue and jobs,” said Bunkley. “How many thousands of losers do we have to lure in for the state to be a big winner? How many existing businesses will be cannibalized, closed and their employees counted as brand-new jobs when we know that will not be the case? How many high-paying jobs come with a casino anyway? And who pays when those losers sink into deep trouble? The answer is, we all do.”

The casino opponents had no doubt that the gambling industry would pull out all the stops.

“We’ve never seen anything on this level,” said Baxley. “This is the largest battle we’ve faced.”

Mark Andrews, chairman of Florida Casino Watch, thought that there would be some support for the bill in the Legislature. “Casino money is a big influencer on government and that’s what we’re seeing,” he said.

Asked if the bill would pass, Baxley said he did not know, calling it a “very dynamic issue.”

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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