Needed: Better State Regulation of Gaming – But Meyer Lansky? Hardly the Fresen-Bogdanoff Bill

Where’s Meyer Lansky when you need him?

BY FRED GRIMM- from the Miami Herald Nov 28, 2011


At least when Meyer Lansky ran the show someone was in charge.

Gambling had a boss, albeit one whose enforcement techniques may have been a bit harsher than those employed by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. But with Meyer, we didn’t suffer this pervasive sense of anarchy, with one new gambling proposal piled atop of another, with no coherent state policy. You might say Lansky had a “strategic vision.”

Meyer ran some 50 illegal gambling operations in South Florida, the Miami Herald reported in 1948 (on the way to its first Pulitzer Prize). He ran casinos and provided a central clearing house for South Florida bookmakers.

And he was famously strict about stuff like the integrity of the games. Gamblers could have more confidence in the casinos Lansky ran in Hallandale — places like Club Boheme, the Green Acres, the Colonial Inn and the Plantation casinos inland — than the thousand or so unregulated strip mall slot joints that have sprung up like weeds across Florida. Everybody knew what happened if a dealer got caught cheating a customer at a Lansky joint. No one regulates the gaming machines at an Internet café.

Lansky may have been a New York City boy, but he could have defined horse racing, something that seems to have flummoxed the state of Florida. Last week, the Division of Pari-Mutuel Racing shrugged off a challenge to barrel racing as a legal pari-mutuel in Florida.

The Florida Quarter Horse Association contends that a horse track in Gretna was trying to circumvent state law and common sense by substituting a low-rent rodeo sport for an actual horse race. You know, an event in which a bunch of horses run around an oval. First one around wins.

Apparently, the Florida Legislature never got around to exactly saying that, perhaps assuming everyone already knew what the hell occurred on a racetrack. But the Division of Pari-Mutuel Racing noted that state statute makes “no mention of any type of ‘race’ conducted by Florida pari-mutuel facilities but only refers to ‘performances.’ ”

Gretna Racing LLC intends to race a herd of cowboy horses through that “performance” loophole; deciding that barrel racing, a rodeo sport, would be a cheaper excuse for poker rooms and slot machines than staging competitions among much more expensive quarter horses.

It was never about racing. On Jan. 31, Gadsden County residents will vote on whether to allow slot machines at the (barrel) race track. Similar racino referendums are suddenly contemplated in Jasper, West Palm Beach and Naples. Whether animals are urged around oval tracks or through an obstacle course doesn’t matter. Counties outside of South Florida figure they’ve got the same right to install slot machines as Broward and Miami-Dade counties. No one in Tallahassee has said they can. No one has said they can’t.

“No one’s in charge. There’s no control,” said Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University and an expert on Florida gambling law. Or at least as much as an expert as someone can be, studying this anarchic mishmash. At least, with the old-time Florida mob bosses, Jarvis said, gambling was strictly organized. None of this willy-nilly stuff.

Meyer Lansky would have hardly allowed interlopers in West Palm Beach or Jasper or Gretna or Naples to wreck a $1.25 billion five-year exclusivity deal worked out with Seminole Indians. Jarvis said that if racinos open up in any county outside Broward or Miami-Dade, “that could end the compact.”

Jarvis doubts that the other big gambling deal percolating in Tallahassee, the controversial “destination casino” bill in the Legislature sponsored by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff and Rep. Erik Fresen, will get through this session. (“It’s dead on arrival,” he said.) But he notes that one element of the bill would create a gambling commission to establish, as the authors put it, “a strategic vision for gaming,” and to guard the integrity of the games.

“Florida needs a centralized regulatory oversight,” Jarvis said. “If Florida wants to attract serious gamblers, then the state needs the kind of oversight they have in Nevada and New Jersey.”

Without Meyer Lansky, a Florida Gambling Commission sounds like the next best thing.

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