Bill to expand Florida gambling; will new governor back it?

6:42 PM, Jan 7, 2011   |    comments
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Pinellas County, Florida -- He ran on one main campaign promise, and now that Rick Scott is in office as Florida governor, he's sticking to it.

"My agenda is going to be jobs, jobs, jobs," Scott said Friday at his first press conference.

Rolling the dice and building more casinos in Florida would certainly bring many jobs.

According to published reports Thursday, Scott will consider ending a ban on high-stakes games as part of his economic plan.

Asked repeatedly about it on Friday, though, he wouldn't show all his cards.

"I haven't taken any position on open gaming, doing anything different with gaming," he said.

That isn't stopping Sen. Dennis Jones, a Republican from Seminole, from taking his chances with a new gambling bill for the upcoming session.

It includes four or five of what he calls "destination casinos," offering a lot more than cards and slots.

"You are looking at high-end shopping, you are looking at theatre, you are looking at four-star restaurants, you are looking at high-end retail, convention centers," Sen. Jones explained.

He says that could bring a total of 20,000 jobs and an extra $2 billion in revenue for the state.

Sen. Mike Fasano, a Republican from New Port Richey, says he's all-in on expanded gambling on one condition.

"If there's going to be any expansion of gambling, that the people should vote on it," he said.

The fear among other betting sites, like Derby Lane dog track in St. Petersburg, is that, if they were left behind in the Seminole deal, the same thing could happen again.

"We will lobby. We've got the property and we can be every bit as competitive," said Vera Rasnake from Derby Lane.

Sen. Jones says, under his bill, a casino operator would have to pay a $50 million application fee to the state.

But will the new governor raise the stakes and let it get that far?

It's a safe bet there's more on this issue to come.

Adam Freeman, 10 News

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