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If there is anyone that has a bigger interest in the outcome of the casino gambling talks that are ongoing in the Florida Legislature than residents of Florida, it is the Bahamas. The island stands to lose millions if the current deals being discussed are placed into law.
On Wednesday, the Florida Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved two new casino gambling Bills that could change the entire landscape of the industry throughout the entire East Coast of the US. The Bills call for expanded gambling at state pari-mutuels, and full scale casinos for the Seminole Indian casinos.
“Don’t kid yourself. We are a gaming state, so why wouldn’t we want to be the cream of the crop rather than losing citizens going somewhere else?” asked the sponsor of the two Bills and SRIC Chairman, Dennis Jones.
Right now, those citizens that Jones is speaking about are taking short plane trips or cruises over to the Bahamas. The island has full casino gambling with games that are not offered in Florida such as craps and roulette.
That may all change, however, under the new Bills and a subsequent compact with the Seminole Indians. The Seminoles would get craps and roulette to go with their already added blackjack and baccarat games. State pari-mutuels would also benefit from gaining blackjack.
In addition to the blackjack, the pari-mutuels would receive something even more valuable to their continued existence, a tax break. Under the new Bills, their tax rate would fall from fifty to thirty five percent on slot machine gaming.
Jones estimates that the state will bring in additional $1 billion annually by making these changes to the current law. That is a figure that has some analysts questioning where that money will be coming from.
“If these Bills, or any similar Bills, are passed in Florida, it would cripple the casino gambling industry in the Bahamas,” said observer Gary Peters, “all of the Florida residents that head to the Bahamas, would no longer have a need to travel there, and people from other states would come to Florida to gamble instead of going to the Bahamas.”
The Senate Bills are extremely different than the ones being proposed in the House, but they do have the backing of Governor Charlie Crist, who is desperately trying to increase revenue for a large budget deficit. Crist had already signed a gambling compact with the Seminole Indians, but it was voided by the state Supreme Court.
Crist voiced his support for the Senate Bills on Tuesday, reiterating his point that he is “open to any idea that will help us get the compact.”
While the governor and many Floridians are crossing their fingers hoping the expanded casino gambling happens, the island of the Bahamas waits, looking on with the fear of what could be disaster in the making.