Backroom Briefing: Gambling Foes At Odds Over Poll

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TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – Floridians overwhelmingly back the current Seminole gaming “compact” and support what they know of a bigger gambling deal Gov. Rick Scott has asked lawmakers to approve, according to a Florida Chamber of Commerce poll released Thursday.

Scott and the Seminole Tribe of Florida reached agreement last month on a compact that would allow tribal casinos to add craps and roulette in exchange for a guarantee of $3 billion to the state over seven years. That came after lawmakers in 2010 approved another gambling compact, part of which expired last year.

The new proposal could also allow slot machines in Palm Beach County and at a new facility in Miami-Dade County, allow limited blackjack at pari-mutuels in Broward and Miami-Dade counties and possibly do away with horse and dog racing altogether while allowing pari-mutuels to maintain cardroom or slot-machine operations, a concept known as “decoupling.”

The poll, conducted Dec. 28 to Dec. 30 by Public Opinion Strategies, found nearly three-fourths of the respondents, after hearing key details, were in favor of the Legislature approving the new compact.

But the group No Casinos Inc., which has long opposed gambling expansion, questioned the results of the poll. That stance conflicts with the Florida Chamber, which also has been a longtime critic of expanded gambling.

Chamber President Mark Wilson called the compact “the best deal for our state” and said the poll supports the chamber’s position that the compact will help the state maintain its appearance as a “family-friendly” tourist destination.

“Voters also agree that the Seminole compact presents Florida with the most reasonable path forward toward controlling gaming operations here in Florida,” Wilson said in a conference call with reporters.

However, No Casinos, a group that has been supported by Disney World, a variety of tourism-related groups and ironically, the Chamber, argued Thursday that the poll fails to address “the massive expansion of gambling” through non-tribal facilities in Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade County.

“The poll did not ask voters how they felt about expansions of gambling that the compact would allow throughout Florida, including to introduction of slot machines outside of tribal properties,” No Casinos President John Sowinski said in a prepared statement. “But what the poll did find is that 72 percent of Floridians don’t want gambling expanded, which is exactly what the proposed compact does.”

The poll found that 53 percent of Floridians want gambling opportunities — casinos, card rooms, slot machine parlors, horse and dog racing — to remain the same, with 19 percent in favor of reducing gambling. Another 27 percent were in favor of expanding gaming.

HOUSING COALITION BEGINS ANNUAL FUNDING FIGHT

As lawmakers debate Scott’s call for more than $1 billion in tax cuts, a coalition of industry and nonprofit groups doesn’t want the money to come from a trust fund for housing programs.

The Sadowski Housing Coalition, which includes organizations ranging from the Florida Coalition for the Homeless, Habitat for Humanity and the Florida Veterans Foundation to the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Home Builders Association, made its annual case Thursday for lawmakers not to raid affordable-housing funds as part of drawing up a budget.

“When there is not that pressure to find money to balance the budget, whatever the amount of money there is in the trust fund … that is the amount of money that should be appropriated to our housing programs. That’s the statute,” said Jaimie Ross, president of the Florida Housing Coalition.

Lawmakers are entering the 2016 legislative session with a projected $635.4 million surplus, a number state economists have reached in part by projecting that about $237 million is swept from trust funds into general revenue.

For the current year, lawmakers allocated for the housing programs $175 million of the $255 million that went into the housing trust fund from real-estate documentary stamp tax revenues.

For next fiscal year, which begins July 1, real-estate growth has bumped the projected revenue for the housing trust fund to nearly $324 million.

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who participated in the Sadowski press conference, said he can only hope that lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Legislature hold the trust funds mostly harmless this year.

“The economy is turning around, we’re talking about $1 billion in tax cuts,” Montford said. “We can make a good case that this makes good business sense, if you will, as well as from a moral standpoint to increase the funding in these programs. It’s good for business and it’s good for people, and quite frankly it’s good for the children.”

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “@Rick Scott writes about his love for @realDonald Trump. That scream is from @JebBush @marcorubio.” — Crowley Report (@crowleyreport)

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