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House Holding Cards Close On Gambling Prospects

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(Photo Credit: MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images)

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Destination Resorts Bill
Legislative Session Coverage

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The idea of bringing Las Vegas style casinos to Florida may be gaining popularity among residents but it’s still unknown whether Florida lawmakers will move forward with the ambitious plan.

A key House panel listened to arguments Wednesday about a proposal to allow resort casinos in Florida, but it remained unclear whether the traditionally gambling-resistant House will move forward with the idea.

Rep. Doug Holder, a Sarasota Republican who is chairman of the House Business & Consumer Affairs Subcommittee, said the back-and-forth arguments helped educate members of his panel.

But Holder was non-committal about whether the subcommittee would hold another workshop on the proposal, end discussions or move toward a vote. He said the House is not waiting to see how the issue is handled in the Senate, where a committee this week approved its version of the bill.

“We are going to vet this fully before making any final decisions,” said Holder, whose subcommittee would hold the first House vote on the issue — if such a vote occurs.

Holder said he has not made up his mind about whether he would support the House bill (HB 487), which would allow up to three “destination” resort casinos in the state.

The House has long been reluctant to expand gambling. But the prospect of mega-resort casinos moving into the state — with a price tag of at least $2 billion each — has fueled a heated political debate. Holder’s panel heard from groups on both sides of the issue, including companies that want to build the resort casinos.

Nick Iarossi, a lobbyist for the Las Vegas Sands Corp., said the firm would cater to convention and trade-show crowds. Iarossi tried to dispel arguments that allowing resort casinos would hurt existing businesses or make Florida similar to Las Vegas or Atlantic City.

“No one wants Florida to be Las Vegas,” Iarossi said. ” Certainly, no one wants Florida to become Atlantic City.”

But Carol Dover, president of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, said the resort casinos would be like a “city under a roof,” offering hotel rooms, restaurants, shopping and other amenities. She said that would lead to customers bypassing other businesses.

“We cannot compete with this mega-casino model,” Dover said.

Also testifying were representatives of pari-mutuel facilities, which argue they would need changes to be able to compete with resort casinos. That would include being able to offer the same types of games and have the same tax rates.

“If you decide to go forward with this, treat the (pari-mutuel) industry fairly,” said Daniel Adkins, vice president of Mardi Gras Casino, a pari-mutuel in Hallandale Beach. “Give us parity.”

“The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.”

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