By Fabiola Santiago
Politicians count on voters having short memories: forgetting, and by proxy, forgiving the bad policy they championed, the bad votes they cast.
I seldom forget the battles, and definitely not the big ones, like the Florida Legislature’s recent attempts to expand gambling in the state and Miami-Dade’s courtship of mega casinos.
Both attempts, led by the Republicans in charge, could have turned into quality-of-life-changing debacles, but they were averted for one reason only: Public outcry.
Nobody wants casinos — and all the documented social ills this industry brings with it — in their neighborhood. Voters — Republicans and Democrats — have said no to gambling expansion in previous referendums, but lawmakers just won’t quit trying.
The gambling industry has its eyes set on Florida — and it has the capital to handsomely compensate lobbyists, influencers and public relations experts who push for it as an economic driver. And certainly, the gambling giants have shown how generously they can fund the campaigns of politicians who keep finding ways of proposing more and bigger venues.
Amendment 3 would put a real damper on their wily ways.
A Yes vote on Amendment 3 would take the power to expand gambling in Florida away from politicians and put it where it belongs — the people. It would enshrine in the Florida Constitution that the state cannot expand gambling without the approval of voters.
If this citizen-driven amendment weren’t good for us — if it weren’t a restraint and check on the gambling industry and its complicit lot — why would they be campaigning so hard against Floridians having a voice on the issue?
The latest tactic of the gambling lobby comes by way of ads that tell you a Yes vote would be an anti-schools vote.
Schools have both state and local budgets that fund them.
As for the size of the state’s tax dollar pot, there’s already plenty of gambling in Florida that generates revenue — including the state lottery, which funds education, although not at the levels originally promised. Because everything politicians promise — like jobs and growth — has hiccups and exceptions, and legislatures and administrations change things.
If you want to help better fund schools in Miami-Dade, for example, vote to give teacher pay raises on referendum #362.
But don’t fall for the line that gambling funds education. Gambling funds crime and corruption; you can’t hire enough law enforcement to keep up.
Miami dodged a bullet on two fronts after a Las Vegas mogul and the Malaysian company Genting descended on the town, hired the best political operators as “consultants” — and immediately got the city and county mayors on board with opening destination mega casinos in downtown. Genting handed out contracts and junket trips to Malaysia to show off their casinos to people connected to city government, like players at the Beacon Council and the Chamber of Commerce.
Everyone was ready to cut themselves a slice of the pie — and ready to turn our beautiful arts districts into casino gambling dens.
But the overwhelming backlash from better-thinking heads prevailed and both former Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez had to back off.
But for quite a while, the Genting mega casino was all set up to go on the waterfront, as the former president of the Beacon Council, Frank Nero, will remind you. He lost his job largely because he blew the whistle on the underhanded fast-tracking and stood publicly in opposition.
“I’m not morally against gambling, been to casinos,” he wrote me Thursday. “But study after study (which I read and studied) has shown casinos have a negative economic impact. Would be especially the case for Miami-Dade where we were trying to diversify the economy and our non-tourism business development and did not wish to be known as Vegas South. Most jobs are low paying, only ones who really benefit are casino interests.”
And, believe me, when gambling giants set up shop, they generate such revenue that they own the towns where they operate. Every time I wrote about this issue back then, I got emails from business people in Bimini, where Genting operates, telling me just that. They run that island.
We certainly don’t need them running Florida.
This amendment doesn’t end the threat.
But at least, voters take control with the final word.
Paid Political advertisement Paid for by Voters in Charge, PO Box 1991 Orlando Florida 32802.