Florida Gambling Debate Ratchets Up Again

Florida’s gambling debate is heating up again, but analysts say no matter what local groups want casinos will be expanding into the state

By ELAINE WALKER — The Miami Herald

MIAMI — The expansion of casino gambling in Florida will not be on the agenda when the state Legislature convenes next week, but discussion about the industry’s future in the state is heating up once again.

An expansion of casinos in Florida would be competition for Coast casinos. The Mississippi Gaming Commission reported that 15 percent of the visitors to casinos in South Mississippi in the last three months of 2012 came from Florida.

A group of Wall Street analysts on Tuesday at the Florida Gaming Congress agreed it’s not a question of if destination gambling resorts will arrive in Florida, only when it will happen.

The analysts consensus prediction: at least two or three resorts in South Florida and possibly double that statewide, will open for business by 2020, with Genting Group, Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts the most likely players at least in South Florida. But getting there is not going to be an easy, as was evident at Tuesday’s event held at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.

The annual event, sponsored by Spectrum Gaming Group, drew about 150 industry executives, analysts, attorneys, lobbyists and government leaders to discuss the state of gambling in Florida.

“The Miami market is extremely attractive,” said Greg Roselli, executive director of credit fixed income with UBS Securities. “The defeat last year wasn’t surprising. They’re going to have to keep picking away at it.”

Carlo Santarelli, director of gaming and lodging research for Deutsche Bank Securities agreed, “The problem is going to be finding a solution that makes everyone happy.”

Competing interests torpedoed the effort last year and based on the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting it doesn’t seem like a whole lot has changed. Agendas still vary among the various players: the large Las Vegas and Asian gambling companies, the existing pari-mutuel facilities, the Seminole Tribe and business groups like the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Miami-Dade County’s Beacon Council.

The leaders of the Florida House and Senate put a moratorium on any gambling legislation this year, in order to conduct a thorough study of the issue.

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