Casino bill authors seek proper target; let's guide their aim
By Michael Lewis
The more we hear from the two lawmakers who would allow massive South Florida casinos, the more we agree with what they swear is their true goal.
They've got the right target. They're just 180 degrees off line on how to hit it.
Let's fine-tune their aim.
Their bill would allow three gigantic casinos, each larger than any now on this planet. In fact, they're requiring a minimum $2 billion spending to play in the big-money gambling game. That's insane in South Florida — and maybe anywhere else.
But, to take Rep. Erik Fresen and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff at their word, they really don't want these huge casinos. In fact, they'd love to get rid of all gambling in Florida, an admirable goal that deserves support once they tweak the bill, which they say they expect to do.
Here's how they put their goal, in their own words:
"Make no mistake; we would like nothing more than to eliminate all gambling. It is not something we believe our state needs, but our current reality was set in motion with the lottery, long before either of us was elected.
"Why not forget destination resorts and simply shut down the Internet cafes and let the pari-mutuel industry die a slow death?"
Why not indeed? It sounds like the perfect route to achieve their aims.
But somehow they got sidetracked, shoving the biggest casinos on the globe down our throats en route to their stated goal of exorcising the whole gambling scourge. Their target is right, but they're aiming backwards.
It won't be hard to turn this around if we listen to what they're saying.
Sen. Bogdanoff has stated that their bill's aim is not to add gambling tax income, which has been gambling's key argument. And they abhor the gambling we're already plagued by, in their words "the predatory gaming of local slot barns, Internet cafes, and the lottery…"
If Sen. Bogdanoff and Rep. Fresen are honest about their aim — and we'd never doubt them — why in the world would they add three massive casinos that would throw off $5 billion plus profit a year to out-of-state operators en route to stamping out gambling?
They'd never dream of it, they say, except that it's the only way to rein in our gambling scourge. So let's help them find a better route to shrink and then eliminate the gambling they loathe.
You legislators can't touch Indian reservation gambling. We don't blame you for that. But you can fix everything else.
Start with the lottery. "Every time a supermarket or gas station opens, that is a new gambling location. That is where this bill desires to reduce gaming," you both wrote in the Miami Herald last month.
You're dead right. Expanding the lottery just picks more pockets of those who can least afford to lose, and the house — the bureaucracy you help direct — is the winner.
But the legislature can rein in the lottery, if you really want to. Just ban new lottery sales spots. Problem solved.
And, if we take you both at your word, no doubt you'd add to that legislation a provision that any lottery vendor that closes couldn't be replaced.
Thus, the lottery would die a long, slow death, withering without harming a single vendor — if legislators have soft hearts.
If you're tougher, shut down the lottery 20% a year and it's over, done and gone in five years, with no tears shed. It's in your hands, legislators, so don't moan that the lottery was there before you. Fix it.
Now, those Internet cafes that you justly reject: get other legislators to join you and outlaw them. By your own count, that's 2,000-plus gambling dens cleaned out with a stroke of the pen. Don't dither — do it.
As for those pari-mutuels you fret about, you also have the power. Voters legalized them, but our legislature in 2010 cut the tax they pay from 50% of the take to 35% and lowered a slots license to $2.5 million that year, $2 million thereafter. We're not blaming you — we agree that you want to stamp out gambling — but you're elected with the power to file a bill to restore the 50% that voters thought the state would receive and the higher slot license fees.
Of course, 50% won't stamp out gambling. Big casino operators that want to open here pay almost 70% elsewhere and turn a profit — though inexplicably you plan to tax them only 10% to send their owners much more profit.
But 50% tax can be only the beginning. If you're seriously against pari-mutuels — and, again, who are we to doubt your word? — make it 70% or 80%. Voters permitted pari-mutuels to have slot machines but they didn't set a tax ceiling. Raise it high, folks.
As Sen. Bogdanoff said of your bill, "This will be an opportunity to decide what kind of gaming we do want."
And, since you both say you don't really want any, why not make your bill your bond: forget mammoth casinos that would vastly expand gambling, outlaw the slots barns you hate, tighten up on the lottery you never believed in and, as you put it, "let the pari-mutuel industry die a slow death."
If we can take you at your word, Rep. Fresen and Sen. Bogdanoff, this is the recipe you've been looking for to hit your true target of stamping out gambling. Glad we could help you aim better.
Now, can we take you at your word?
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