|By Scott Maxwell, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 19, 2011--Are you casino confused?
If so, it's perfectly understandable.
With the debate over casinos in Florida gaining steam, we have folks throwing out all sides of wild -- and wildly conflicting -- claims.
One side claims casinos are the jackpot that will instantly fix our economy.
The other claims big casinos could put our state on the road to ruin.
So who's right? Neither one completely.
Much like a poker player, you have to be able to spot the tells and call the bluffs. That's why I'm here today to help you cut through the malarkey with seven key facts you aren't hearing from either side.
Read them, and then decide for yourself whether Florida should ante up.
1.Big-time gambling is already here. Did you know that Florida already has about a dozen land-based casinos -- including one of the largest on the planet? Yes, the Seminole Tribe's Hard Rock casino in Tampa will soon be 220,000 square feet -- bigger than any single casino in Las Vegas. Opponents act like a mega casino will destroy the state. If so, we should already be toast.
2. Don't believe the revenue predictions. Casino proponents talk of massive new revenues. But you have to remember an important point: Our state lies. Remember the lottery? How it was supposed to produce all this new money for schools? Yeah, that didn't happen. Instead, Florida politicians moved so much existing money away that per-pupil funding was actually lower than before the lottery.
3. Neither side believes Rick Scott. If they did, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. Scott vowed absolutely, totally and without qualification that, if elected, he would not allow the expansion of gambling of any kind. He did so in an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness ... and then flew to Vegas two weeks after the election to meet with a casino owner.
4. Beware of promises to regulate the industry. Casino proponents are trying to assure residents that the state will thoroughly regulate the industry. That shouldn't make you feel safer. It should make you laugh. If the state "regulates" gambling the same way it "regulates" your power bills and insurance rates, consumers will lose -- and the so-called regulators will end up getting jobs with the companies they allegedly watchdogged. Again, trust history more than promises.
(Mid-point bonus tip: Always double-down on 11. Look for roulette wheels with just one zero. And stay away from the keno lounge.)
5. Not only do casinos bring more jobs, they bring better-paying ones. Casinos employ dealers, pit bosses and hosts that often make more money than your average service-sector worker. But, even in the same jobs, workers at casino resorts often earn more than those at their nongaming peers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average hotel desk clerk makes $21,290 in Florida and yet $27,300 in Nevada. Tipsy gamblers with wads of cash can be a cocktail waitress' best friend.
6. Casinos do come with social ills. The arguments about rampant crime are debatable. (Again, see Tampa.) But the evidence about how gambling affects individuals is pretty solid. More gambling means more people with gambling problems. One study by the University of Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions found that living within 10 miles of a casino can increase one's chances of becoming a problem gambler by 90 percent.
7. Follow the money. Very few people speak without financial motive or incentive. The casino companies are pouring money into the campaigns and slush funds of Florida politicians. So are the existing tourism businesses that don't want the competition. In general, there are some legitimate arguments on both sides. But don't expect those points to come from those getting paid to make them.
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(c)2011 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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