American Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, opens fire against Walt Disney Co. by sending more than 100 lobbyists to the Capitol in an attempt to bring Las Vegas gambling to Florida.
Walt Disney Co., which operates some of the largest amusement parks and resorts, having one of their most famous locations near Orlando, also sent their lobbyists to campaign against the expansion of gambling to the state of Florida.
Currently, US gambling laws allow gambling in Florida in only eight Indian casinos. They offer Las Vegas-style games, except craps and roulette, along with 31 pari-mutuel facilities.
Recently, a state-commissioned research study was conducted and the conclusion was that full-service casinos, along with their resort part and hotels could be able to generate around $1.5 billion in spending/year in Florida.
This information was more than favorable for casino operators, which aim at obtaining permission for building three resorts in South Florida and turn the state into a very attractive gambling destination.
However, Disney doesn’t approve of this potential casino expansion, as they would like to protect their own Walt Disney World Resort business in the state.
Analysis of the battle
Robert Jarvis, Gambling law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, commented: “Gambling interests in Las Vegas and Atlantic City are looking for new territory, and opening Florida to them would be tremendous.”
He added: “The fear for Disney is that instead of people going to Disney and dropping their disposable income there, they’ll go to the destination casinos and drop their money there.”
His evaluation of the situation seems quite feasible as both sides of the conflict may win or lose billions, which is not a factor that just can’t be neglected.
The fight will be taken at all possible levels
Not surprisingly, the controversy between land-based and internet casinos in the US, and Disney seems to be a long process that had only just began. Apparently, the rivalry will take gigantic dimensions.
The size of the resorts is one of the discussed matters as Disney has 700,000 sq ft of meeting space in its Florida resorts, but Genting operator declared that it wants to build the world’s largest casino in Miami with 750,000 sq ft of meeting space.
Disney’s major argument is that gambling would hurt the state. Andrea Finger, Disney’s spokeswoman, commented: “The massive expansion of gambling that would come from legalizing mega-casinos would be a bad bet for Florida’s taxpayers, tourism brand and existing businesses.”
Numerous interests are involved
Casino operators and Disney in Florida are in severe billion dollars battle
• Sheldon Adelson sends more than 100 lobbyists to the Washington trying to introduce Las Vegas gambling in Florida
• Disney and other gambling opponents invest millions in donations to Florida politicians
• Casino operators donate more and more in an attempt to provoke beneficial legislation decision
Nick Iarossi, a Tallahassee-based lobbyist representing Las Vegas Sands, said: “Florida’s warm weather and steady stream of international tourists make it attractive for casino operators looking to enter a conventions-and-meetings industry dominated by Disney.”
He added: “Florida is better suited than even New York or Maryland for an integrated resort. Our tourism-based economy is really perfect for the convention and trade-show business.”
As far as the legislators in Florida are concerned, they don’t seem to be taking official sides at the moment. However, supporters of the gambling business have already donated $3.4 million to the Florida lawmakers, whereas Disney donated “only” $1.7 million. What seems to be the case, in the present and future times, is that donations will be much more.
Sen. Garrett Richter, chairman of the Senate gaming committee, commented on the current situation: “State legislators met on February 3rd to discuss a rewrite of gambling regulations. They plan to introduce a draft bill next week and vote on a new gaming law during the 60-day legislative session that begins March 4.”
This progress on the situation seems encouraging, but the legislators still appear to be far from taking a definite decision.
Casino opponents do whatever it takes
In addition to Disney, different Indian casinos and slot operators are also trying to protect their businesses and expand, instead of settle with the possible casino invasion in Florida.
Naturally, the way they do it is through different donations and examples of such cases are numerous. The Seminole Tribe of Florida, seeking to renew its contract to operate the state’s only Las Vegas-style casinos at the moment, donated $500,000 to Scott’s campaign in September, which was the largest gift of the year.
Disney itself gave more than $400,000 in free theme park tickets and entertainment in the past year.
When it comes to lobbyists, No Casinos, an Orlando-located group hired 23 lobbyists last year to work against gambling in Florida.
Disney, which has extreme power and even a say in Florida politics, given its crucial role in the state’s $71.8 billion tourism industry, also hired 34 lobbyists in 2013.
Etan Mark, a lawyer for Miami Jai-Alai slot machines’ casino owned by Florida Gaming Corporation commented: “Disney is one of the most powerful special interests around. The specter of getting targeted by Disney in an election, I’m sure, is weighing very heavily on a number of these state representatives as they consider what the next step is going to be.”
Casino operators strike back
Genting is completely devoted to its Florida mission and is ready to use any means in order to influence positively the lawmakers. Genting companies have donated more than $1.1 million to Florida politicians, since 2013.
Additionally, Adelson, donated $250,000 in 2012, which was the biggest gift of the year.
US senators yet express some personal preferences
US senators haven’t taken the final decision yet, but different opinions have been articulated.
Sen. Richter, said that he supports the legislation for two full-service casinos in South Florida. “A destination resort in Miami would be a good thing for the state of Florida. It would attract new revenue dollars.”
Sen. Gwen Margolis, on the other hand said that she opposes the opening of large casinos in Miami because they would hurt the existing businesses.
David Hart, vice president of Florida Chamber of Commerce, commented: “The goal is to protect Florida’s ‘family-friendly’ image. This is going to be a real battle in the legislature.”
His conclusion on the US gambling news was: “Part of the reason is that the casinos, whether that’s the Malaysian Group, Genting, or whether that’s Las Vegas Sands, they need Florida a lot more than we need them.”