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The Tampa Tribune: Tom Feeney: Florida will get gaming right — and be better for it

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Special to The Tampa Tribune
Published: October 1, 2014

I agree with my friend Mark Wilson of the Florida Chamber of Commerce on many issues, but in his recent column, “A bet the Sunshine State cannot afford — just look at Atlantic City” (Other Views, Sept. 24), he misses the mark on gaming and the much-needed reforms Florida needs to continue to consider and implement.

Our Legislature has studied the gaming issue quite deliberately and pointed out major differences between Atlantic City and anything that is being considered in Florida. At no point has the Florida Legislature even discussed anything more than perhaps one or two integrated resorts in South Florida, where voters have already spoken and are supportive of limited additional gaming options.

Further, Florida is already a national and international tourist destination — something Atlantic City could never claim before, during or after the casino years. As a worldwide tourism leader, Florida must continue to look for ways to build upon its success in the tourism arena, and find new ways to enhance our economy and create new jobs.

Limited and appropriately placed and sized integrated resorts offer our state a number of benefits.

They would attract visitors from around the world interested in experiencing a variety of amenities and activities.

Tourists and business travelers would be able to enjoy convention facilities, high-end retail, fine dining, spas, entertainment venues, gaming facilities and first-class hotel accommodations.

These resorts would enhance our world-class tourism and economy and would be limited to and located in areas of the state where they are welcome. Local retail establishments and businesses would welcome new tourists to South Florida and the new tourist dollars they bring with them.

It is a model that has proven to spur economic activity, create jobs and serve as a magnet to attract more major conventions and trade shows.

Critics of any modernization or rationalization of gaming take an all-or-nothing approach, but in reality Florida already has gaming. One or two high-end destination resorts will create high-end jobs and revenue. These are just a few positives for our state. Critics also have said in lieu of a high-end gaming approach states should cut spending and increase taxes. Does that mean we should cut health care or education spending in our state? A more sensible option would be to create smart and beneficial development that will create revenue and jobs, like one or two destination resorts.

Moving forward, Florida’s leaders have an enormous opportunity to act and build upon our economic successes, while at the same time working to get our current disorganized gaming system under control. Florida is long overdue for common-sense gaming reform that brings tough regulations and oversight along with limited modern new gaming options that benefit our state’s economy.

With these reforms, Florida can ensure there is accountability within the industry, as well as fair and consistently applied gaming laws.

Florida legislators have taken the smart approach to this issue — be deliberate and get it right. That is exactly the path our legislative leaders are on. I encourage them to continue their work on gaming reforms and move Florida toward a gaming future that our citizens support and benefit from.

Florida will get it right, and Florida will be better off for it.

Tom Feeney is president and chief executive officer of Associated Industries of Florida, a pro-business organization headquartered in Tallahassee.

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