Daily Archives: January 5, 2012

Sunshine State News on Dean Cannon View of Casino Bill

asino, Gaming Commission Bill Given ‘Long Shot’ for House Approval
By: JIM TURNER | Posted: January 2, 2012 3:55 AM

House Speaker Dean Cannon | Credit: deancannon.comHide
The depth of a budget that may have 2 billion fewer dollars than a year ago, along with the once-a-decade redistricting of political seats across the state, makes the gambling bill now before the Legislature a “long shot,” House Speaker Dean Cannon said.

“I think it’s an uphill battle because of the amplitude of the budget shortfall,” Cannon, R-Winter Park, said during an interview with Sunshine State News.

“The fact that there are only two bills that we have to pass this year, and they’re both complex, the budget and redistricting, I think those two are going to suck a lot of oxygen from the room,” Cannon added. “So I think those forces combined make it a long shot.”

Personally, Cannon says he’s opposed to the expansion of gaming in the state and remains

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“skeptical” of arguments that the destination resort bills — HB 487 and SB 710 filed by state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale — would help limit the ongoing growth of gaming options in

the state.

“There are a whole bunch of variables in the greater subject matter of gaming,” Cannon said. “The Internet cafes, the pari-mutuels, this new Gretna issue with barrel racing, coupled with the push for casinos and the fact we did the Indian gaming compact recently.”

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Cannon declined to address different aspects of the bill that members may propose, such as those that have already been filed to outlaw or regulate Internet cafes or address the efforts in Gadsden, Hamilton and Palm Beach counties to have voters decide if local pari-mutuels can offer slot machines.

The slot machine effort, which could nullify the state’s gaming compact with the Seminole Indian Tribe of Florida, is being advanced because of a lower court ruling that allows voters to approve the gaming machines at pari-mutuels.

The ruling has been appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the bills call for the creation of a statewide gaming commission and would allow up to three $2 billion mega-resorts.

Bogdanoff has said a ban on the cafes is expected when she files an amended version of the destination resort bill that will also include an increase in the license fee for the casinos, from $50 million to $125 million each, and that the casinos must be located in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

The tax on revenue from the casinos, currently proposed at 10 percent, and the 35 percent tax on revenue from existing pari-mutuels, is also expected to be readjusted.

By limiting the casinos to those South Florida counties where slot machines are allowed beyond the Seminole casinos, the state’s revenue from the compact would only be cut in half. The entire compact would be void, with the Seminoles expected to increase their gaming offerings, if slots and other Vegas-style games are allowed by the state outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Jai alai frontons, greyhound racing, horse racing and poker rooms that existed before the compact went into effect in July 2010, do not impact the compact.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

From Jax Times Union – Sen.Thrasher (St Augustine) Still OpposesCasino Bill- Write Your representatives before MOnday!

Casino compromise not winning over John Thrasher

Submitted by Matt Dixon on January 3, 2012 – 12:54pm

A compromise version of legislation that would sprout three “destination” casinos in South Florida has not won over one of the bill’s biggest critics: state Sen. John Thrasher, R – St. Augustine.

“It still, the way I read it, represents an expansion of gambling,” he said. “Florida is a family friendly, tourist state. We should not be branded a gambling state.”

The bill’s Senate sponsor is Ellyn Bogdanoff, R – Fort Lauderdale. The original version faced tough criticism from business lobbies, and current pari-mutuel

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facilities. Along with green-lighting the three Vegas-style casinos in South Florida, her reworked proposal does several things the old bill did not.

It taxes all slot revenue at 18 percent. The old bill taxed the new casino’s slot revenue at 10 percent, while current slot operators would continue to pay 35 percent. Supporters of the new casinos say it is fair because any company allowed to build would be required to invest $2 billion.

The rewrite allows current pari-mutuel facilities to offer the same table games the new resort casinos offer if they pony up a $100 million investment.
It also gives residents in Broward and Miami-Dade counties the ability to approve gaming expansion via referendum.

It shuts down internet cafes, and calls for a ban on barrel racing, a type of horse racing where horses weave between barrels. Supporters say it’s legal horse racing, while opponents say they are taking advantage of a loophole in state law.
“It [the compromise] creates a lot of new provisions. At the very least, I think we need to look at these. They have not even been discussed,” Thrasher said of the new proposal.

He sits in a key spot to halt the bill. He chairs the Senate Rules committee, the bill’s final committee stop. He would not speculate about whether or not he would give the bill a hearing if it gets that far.

“We [the Senate] have spent a lot of time on this, and the House has not even struck the first chord,” he said.

Bogdanoff has said that she does not support gaming expansion, but the destination casino bill is a needed vehicle for ramming tougher gambling regulations (which she supports) through the Legislature. Past attempts at passing tougher regulations by themselves have failed, she said.

Her bill would also set up a new commission to oversee gaming.

Michael Lewis of MIami Today on City and County Deals- There is a Rather Sad Record of Incompetence

How unlucky can we get in public profit-sharing deals?

By Michael Lewis
The zero-profit-sharing sham at AmericanAirlines Arena verifies that taxpayers lose when governments hand powerful interests sweetheart deals.
Despite Miami-Dade County sending the arena $6.4 million a year, profit-sharing with the Miami Heat subsidiary that runs it has never kicked in as the deal enters its unlucky 13th year.
We’re so unlucky, in fact, that the public last year came within just a few hundred thousand dollars of getting its first dime from an arena whose construction we still fund.
The abysmal deal was cut in back rooms days before a 1996 election. Mayor Alex Penelas, who had backed a referendum to prevent waterfront land use for such a project and opposed arena funding, came out of secret meetings and switched sides. He fronted the deal with the Heat and, as we now know, was either vastly outsmarted or bought into a bad deal for private reasons.
In the deal, net must top $14 million before the county starts to collect 40% of profit from its own arena on land it bought from the City of Miami for $37 million to give the Heat a waterfront home, though the enclosed arena turns its back on the water.
Last year profit hit $13.22 million, tantalizingly near payout.
Not that anyone looks closely. Former county finance director Carter Hammer once told us the Heat didn’t bother to project arena revenues for the county, and the county certainly didn’t bother looking for the figures.
Although the county claims to be trying to save every dollar, no one seems to care. When we asked current Mayor Carlos Gimenez about the arena split shortly after he took office, he said he did care but cited more pressing worries.
Okay, but with tens of thousands of employees, doesn’t the county have anyone to probe how the nation’s seventh most visited entertainment venue moves money among entities run by Heat billionaire owner Micky Arison?
We’d like reassurance that someone looks out for the public.
Not that it’s easy. Business is far more adept at moving assets than government is at following the money.
The result is that government seldom gets paid in such contracts.
Bear this deal in mind at the soon-to-open Marlins stadium. It too is county owned but team controlled. As at AmericanAirlines Arena, the team also runs the site via a subsidiary that can shift funds among multiple entities.
Unlike the Heat deal, however, the Marlins needn’t even pretend the public is due ballgame profits. It’s only in some non-baseball uses that the county is to share receipts, though the Marlins get to decide when they keep everything and when the public might share if money remains.
But we were assured by George Burgess, the former county manager who engineered the giveaway Marlins deal before he had to resign, that the public is protected.
Chicago-based consultant International Facilities Group, which also worked with the county on the Heat arena, reviewed and approved the Marlins stadium budget, Mr. Burgess noted in the Marlins deal, so “it’s outside validated.”
Based on the track record, that’s not reassuring.
Determining government revenues by the profits of only one entity among several operated jointly is a pitfall not confined to sports.
Proposed casino resorts would elevate potential profit-sharing payouts and offer far more incentive to casino operators to shift funds.
Under bills in the legislature, each massive resort would require at least $2 billion investment, with hotels, meeting centers, restaurants and other enterprises the bulk of the deal.
The state would become a de facto partner, sharing operating net from the casino profits alone that could hit billions annually. That share is proposed at 10%, possibly rising or falling if legislation changes.
But the higher the tax, the more incentive to shift costs from other business lines to the casino itself. That way, casino profits — and taxes — would fall and the operator’s true take would rise.
The Genting Group, which plans its Resorts World Miami to displace the Miami Herald and the Omni Center, explains that it mixes many profit centers on the casino floor, not just gambling but also dining, bars and services. Allocating costs among them could be even trickier.
Casinos, after all, are unusual: meals, drinks and even hotel rooms are offered below cost to lure gamblers. Subtracting those costs from casino profits for taxation offers wide room for hanky-panky.
If government doesn’t bother to examine a basketball arena’s projections and future fund flow, imaging dealing with gambling operators trying to cut taxes. They will deduct the costs of every other operation from gambling receipts for tax purposes.
If we’re unlucky with basketball, think how unlucky we can be with gambling professionals in control.
Of course, government has one surefire way to avoid all the uncertainty and public loss in these huge sweetheart deals: just don’t make them.

MIami Today on Forthcoming Fresen-Bogdanof Committee Voted on Casino Bill. What a pretzel!

Revamped casinos bill faces up-or-down hurdle

By Scott Blake
The fate of a highly controversial bill in the Florida Senate to permit mega-casinos could be decided Monday after key parts of the legislation were rewritten — including a provision that allows for local voters to approve such projects in South Florida.
The Senate’s Regulated Industries Committee may vote on the legislation during a Jan. 9 meeting in Tallahassee.
Sen. Dennis Jones, a Seminole Republican and the committee’s chairman, said, after having about six hours of hearings on the bill in recent weeks, he would like the committee to settle the issue Monday before the legislative session starts Tuesday.
“I’d like to see us either vote it up or out,” Sen. Jones told Miami Today. “Either way, I think we need to take care of it then.”
Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said she may ask the committee to delay the vote a week because of the numerous changes she has made.
A majority of the 10 members must approve the bill to move it out of the committee, which handles gambling and other issues.
“There’s a lot to digest and the other members may need more time before voting,” Sen. Bogdanoff, a member of the committee, told Miami Today.
Her office released the latest version of the bill this week with a list of 35 amendments. She said the bill still could undergo more changes before or during Monday’s committee meeting.
The new bill removes the referendum exemption that Miami-Dade and Broward counties had under the earlier version.
The previous bill would have required casino resort proposals in all other Florida counties to have local voter approval. The new bill puts Miami-Dade and Broward on even footing with the rest of the state in that regard.
“Those that argue that the public does or does not want gaming… the public will have the last word,” Sen. Bogdanoff said in an email to other committee members.
The bill still would permit up to three casino resorts in Florida each costing at least $2 billion, and it still would create a state gaming commission and department.
However, the new version would increase state licensing fees and the state revenue tax rate for casino resorts from previous levels, but Sen. Bogdanoff said those figures could change before the vote.
The new bill also would provide some parity on taxes and games for existing pari-mutuels, but it also contains provisions that would phase them out.
Sen. Bogdanoff said her goal is to spur job creation and economic development, boost the state’s trade show and tourism business, and decrease the presence of smaller “predatory” gambling operations in Florida.
“I think I’ve been able to maintain my original vision,” she said.
The Senate committee’s decision could influence what the Florida House of Representatives will do with a twin bill by state Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican.
Nick Iarossi of Capital City Consulting, a Tallahassee lobbying firm following the legislation for Las Vegas Sands Corp., said: “I think the House is waiting to see what the Senate is doing.”

MIami Chamber’s Predictable and “Shortsighted” Action

Miami Chamber of Commerce endorses casinos By DOUGLAS HANKS

The Miami Herald South Florida’s largest business group votes to push for bringing casinos to the region, provided local governments and workers get a share of the new business.

In a rare closed session, the Chamber said it ”conditionally supports” casino resorts under several conditions. Along with the referendum and local tax requirements, the Chamber said it would require casinos to fund efforts to mitigate damage caused by the new facilities, including social issues and infrastructure costs. Joe Raedle / Getty Images Photo By DOUGLAS HANKS dhanks@MiamiHerald.com The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday endorsed bringing casino resorts to South Florida, throwing the weight of the region’s largest business group behind the push to expand the state’s gambling laws. A resolution adopted by the Chamber’s board includes provisions that are stricter than the current industry-backed bill under consideration in Tallahassee. The Chamber wants Florida to mandate a local casino tax, local hiring, equal treatment for existing casinos at racetracks and jai-alai frontons, and countywide voter approval for new casinos. Even with the conditions, the Chamber vote may represent the biggest local endorsement yet for a casino proposal that has divided businesses across South Florida. Trade groups representing the construction industry have already endorsed the casino bill, while local business leaders, including Carnival CEO Micky Arison, auto magnate Norman Braman, Beacon Council president Frank Nero have lined up against it. Penny Shaffer, the healthcare executive who serves as Chamber chairwoman, said the board sees a casino bill as helping a battered economy.“Obviously we believe it’s jobs. We believe it’s more tourism. We believe that it has the potential for collateral benefits across the community,’’ she said after a luncheon where the Chamber released its legislative agenda for 2012. In voting for casinos, the Greater Miami Chamber broke with its statewide counterpart, the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Backed by the Disney, whose Orlando theme parks would face competition by South Florida casino resorts, the state Chamber has been leading the fight against the gambling bill in Tallahassee. Some Chamber board members opposed the casino resolution, but Shaffer said the vote wasn’t close. The Chamber had been expected to endorse the casino push, with leaders seen as leaning toward that position and surveys at two Chamber events showing attendees mostly supported the new resorts. Gregory Bush, a University of Miami history professor helping organize opposition to the casinos, called the Chamber vote predictable and misguided.“It’s bad for business in the long run,’’ Bush said. “It seems [Chamber leaders] don’t grasp the serious social costs of such a large expansion of gambling in our area.”The Tallahassee bill is designed to bring as many as three $2 billion casino resorts to South Florida. It would not require a referendum in Broward or Miami-Dade, or reserve any of a 10 percent casino tax for local governments. It also would leave existing casinos at racetracks and frontons paying their current 35 percent tax. To add on a local gambling tax, lawmakers would need to either reduce the money coming into Florida coffers from the new casinos or increase the proposed 10 percent tax, which would be one of the lowest in the country. Lobbyists for the casino industry have pushed back against a recent proposal to raise the gambling tax to in the bill 18 percent. Andy Abboud, head of government relations for the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which wants to build a casino, hotel and convention center in downtown Miami, called the 18 percent tax a “non starter” during a meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board on Wednesday. Though Sands began pushing for a Miami location shortly after Florida signed a 2007 deal with the Seminole Indians to operate larger casinos, the gambling debate revved up in May when Genting, a Malaysian gambling company, announced plans to build a massive casino resort on the Miami waterfront. Genting paid $236 million for The Miami Herald’s headquarters, and later purchased the adjoining Omni commercial complex, which includes the Chamber’s current offices. In selling its property to Genting, the Herald negotiated a deal to remain in the building rent-free through the spring of 2013.Shortly after the Chamber vote, Genting issued a statement praising the decision.The vote “demonstrates the strong consensus that exists among business and civic leaders who recognize the benefits these projects will bring to our community,’’ read the part of the statement from Resorts World Miami, the name of the proposed $4 billion Genting project.Chamber leaders approved the half-page casino resolution as part of a larger package of positions that will guide its political strategy as it presses for laws at the state and federal level. Chamber president Barry Johnson said the group does not hire lobbyists, but regularly recruits members to press Chamber positions with lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/04/2573298/miami-chamber-of-commerce-endorses.html#storylink=cpy