TAMPA BAY TIMES JANUARY 23, 2012
Promoter of casino bill getting uneasy about proposed changes
The effort to find a politically palatable compromise that will get a destination resort casino bill through the House may have found its first casualty:
Las Vegas Sands.
The Las Vegas casino giant, which was the first to bring the concept of a “destination resort” casino and convention center to Florida two years ago, says it would have a hard time supporting the bill if the amendments by sponsor Rep. Erik Fresen , R-Miami, get on the bill.
“My client, the Las Vegas Sands, has some concerns about the amendments that would make [the bill] less appealing,” said Nick Iarossi, lobbyist for Sands.
Iarossi told the Herald/Times that specifically the idea of using tax revenues generated by the casino industry to buy back pari-mutuel permits for low performing horse and dog track and jai alai frontons is “causing some discomfort.”
“The state has the ability to spend the money as it sees fit,” Iarossi said, but using the revenues generated by the casinos to pay pari-mutuels “raises some policy flags for my client.”
Meanwhile, Sands stands by its argument that three mega casinos in South Florida, as proposed in both Fresen’s bill and the Senate companion bill, “are too many,” he said. “We probably wouldn’t build if there are three in South Florida.”
Sands was the first to pitch the notion of a convention-based mega resort in Florida that would include a resort casino as part of it footprint but it was only when the Genting Group, the Maylasian-based casino and resort company, invested nearly $500 million in real estate purchases in Miami that the bills started moving.
“For over two years we’ve pitched the benefits of a destination resort and the jobs it creates. Now it’s up to the Legislature to authorize that concept or not,” Iarossi said.
The Senate version of the bill by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The House is expected to hear Fresen’s bill, and his proposed amendments to it, at the Business and Consumer Affairs Committee next week.
Among the opponents to the destination resort legislation have been several Central Florida lawmakers on the House committee who have said they will support the measure only if it bring a net reducton in gambling. Under Fresen’s proposal, parimutuels could petition to have their permits bought back by the state. That could include the Sanford Orlando Kennel Club, and the Orlando Jai Alai in Seminole County, which closed in 2009.
Sands wants to see the bill continue to make progress, Iarossi said, and “certainly won’t oppose it,” if the changes are enacted because they believe “this bill is going to change a lot if it is going to pass.”