As the start of the Florida legislative session looms, and with another debate on casino gaming forthcoming, casino critics are out in force. Their tiresome strategy is to use the closings of a couple Atlantic City, New Jersey properties to peddle their exaggerated narrative of how the sky will fall in Florida if casinos emerge. Apparently, they think Florida voters are somehow unaware that tribal casinos are already present in Florida and making positive contributions in the communities in which they do business.
The decision to expand or simply maintain the existing Florida casinos is up to the people and legislators of the State. The debate, however, should be fueled by facts about our industry as opposed to the tired stereotypes sold by the entrenched parties with their own self-interest.
The truth is that Florida, a state with a robust, diversified tourism economy, already reaps tremendous benefits from partnering with the gaming industry.
A recent study conducted by Oxford Economics shows gaming driving big results in the Sunshine State. Casino gaming contribute $1.2 billion to the state’s economy while supporting 7,500 Florida jobs and generating nearly $359 million in tax revenues to local, state and federal governments.
Adam Sacks, who conducted the Oxford study, described gaming in the state as “a vast industry that boosts local communities across Florida by supporting jobs and generating customers for businesses.”
In addition to studying gaming in Florida, Oxford found that, nationwide, casino gaming supports 1.7 million jobs, which is more than the airline industry; contributes $240 billion in economic activity, equivalent to the budgets of New York and Texas combined; and generates $38 billion in federal, state and local taxes—enough to pay the salaries of more than half-a-million teachers.
Given the results we consistently deliver, it is no surprise that a recent poll conducted by two prominent political pollsters found that voters across the political spectrum view gaming more favorably than ever before; they also recognize that gaming creates jobs, strengthens local businesses and benefits communities.
As we’ve seen in communities beyond Las Vegas across the country, a casino can serve as a potent catalyst to attract new businesses and bolster existing ones.
In Bangor, Maine, the opening of a casino in 2012 helped a local beer brewing company triple its workforce, creating 50 new jobs.
In Columbus, Ohio, the once-blighted West Side neighborhood has been undergoing a transformation since Hollywood Casino opened there two years ago. The presence of the casino has spurred new development and retail projects, road improvements, a new park and a general sense of optimism. According to the head of the neighborhood’s economic development organization, “If it wasn’t for the casino, none of this would have happened.”
In Pittsburgh, Rivers Casino has served as an economic engine for the city’s North Shore neighborhood, where casino owners helped to develop a beautiful, privately-funded riverfront park while creating 1,800 jobs and generating $745 million in tax revenue over the last half-decade.
It’s clear that casino opponents’ criticism fall flat in the face of facts, which show gaming driving big results in hundreds of American communities. As a Pew analysis recently noted, “Overall, the casino gambling industry—whether freestanding, on riverboats, at racetracks or on tribal reservations—is thriving.”
Those funding Florida’s gaming opposition do not fear casinos; they fear competition. They fear new convention centers and meeting locations that will create new jobs and new opportunities for Florida’s visitors. The so-called critics are not the first to cloak their anti-competitive desires in a moral crusade against gaming, and they feel no shame in spreading mistruths and antiquated notions.
The greatest problem the critics confront is the overwhelming evidence of the positive contributions casinos have made from coast-to-coast. Casino gaming is no longer a novelty. We are a highly competitive business uniquely capable of creating thousands of local jobs, supporting small businesses and partnering with communities. If Florida decides to expand gaming, it can do so knowing that the casino industry would be a strong and committed community partner.
Geoff Freeman is president and CEO of the American Gaming Association