Florida Expansion: The Lobbyists’ Battleground By Luke Haward September 2, 2014 at 8:08 am Florida has become a hotbed of dispute on gambling matters, with much debate in the state legislature about casino expansion. The terrain is by no means smooth for those looking to expand gaming; both sides that are weighing in on the subject have pretty impressive reach and deep pockets. Those involved include Malaysian-based gambling giant Genting as well as the old American pie stalwart Disney, staunch defender of the family-friendly status of the Sunshine State. A healthy, or some might argue unhealthy amount of funds have been spent for lobbying on gambling concerns over the past year. Lobbying firms are only required to declare their earnings as being within certain ranges, but several have chosen to declare specific contracts. Ballard Partners, for example, received $89,000 twice from Genting, once for executive and once for legislative representation. (This is Genting in the guise of Resorts World Miami, which has been campaigning for a casino resort in South Florida.) Capital City Consulting received $73,000 from Las Vegas Sands. These two firms handle a lot of the pro-gambling lobby work in the state, and have both declared over $1 million in fees for the fiscal period. In fact, Ballard reported $4.8 million in fees for the second quarter alone. The tribes have a powerful lobby of their own, with the Seminole spending $380,000 on lobbying in the past fiscal year, and the Miccosukee not far behind with $284,000. (These numbers were made available through the Open Secrets Center for Responsive Politics.) There has been little progress in the discussions between the State and the Seminole tribe, which now controls the biggest slice of gambling action in Florida, running casino-style games at the Hard Rock. The current deal is nothing to sniff at, assuring the state will get $1 billion of the tribe’s revenue over a five-year period. Any further negotiations on that deal will wait for the next session of the legislature, with Governor Rick Scott seemingly unwilling or unable to cut a new deal before voters decide on his re-election bid, this November. It may well simply be that Scott doesn’t wish to alienate the anti-gambling side of his voter demographic at this time, an understandable stance in a state so divided on gaming expansion. A recent state-commissioned study found that $1.5 billion in spending could result from setting up new resort casinos. But efforts on legislation to authorize such resort-style casinos ultimately faded out this session; the anti-gambling lobby was just too significant a force for Scott to either stonewall or negotiate around. The existing tribal casinos in Florida continue to oppose such an expansion for clear reasons of self-interest, as do the pari-mutuel racetracks and, most vocally of all, the theme park industry. The chief voice for the last of these is, of course, Disney – which argues that gambling does real damage to Florida, quipping that any such large-scale expansion of gambling would be a seriously “bad bet” for the state. The Mouse spent over $1.5 million on donations to members of the Florida legislature between 2012 and 2013. Gambling interests donated $2.5 million over the same period. Disney’s lobbying expenditure for 2014 came to a hefty $1.83 million, a great deal of which was spent lobbying against gambling expansion. With dollars like these rolling in from both sides, is it any wonder the Governor has been hesitant to take decisive action in favor of one side or the other? The battleground is a stand-off for the present. And since this legislative arena now involves a particularly lucrative flow of lobbying and donation dollars, there is a lot of vested interest within the legislature in not acting this year. The winds of change might blow strongly after election time, but until then the expansion game will stay pretty quiet.