Casino giants disappointed in Fla. gambling plans

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – While bills have not even made it to a vote yet, Florida lawmakers are already floating gambling plans.

Las Vegas Sands Corp and casino giant Genting Group have spent more than two years trying to convince lawmakers to allow them to open shop in Florida.

"We're disappointed in these bills and confused by the lack of substance," Andy Abboud, vice president of government relations and community development for Las Vegas Sands Corp., said Tuesday, the opening day of the 2014 legislative session. "Both the House and the Senate (bills) do not match the integrity of the conversations we have been having with the Legislature, both publicly and in private meetings, for the last year."

The Senate measure would allow for one casino in Broward County and one casino in Miami-Dade County, requiring operators to spend at least $2 billion on each project over five years -- that's not including real estate costs.

However, a House proposal released late Monday night doesn't allow for any expansion beyond what the state has now.

"The Senate bill will not bring integrated resorts to Florida. It will continue the status quo of leaving everything as it is, and Florida will continue to expand by gaming creep without a comprehensive policy," Abboud said. "We were led to believe that the Legislature was going to set forth a policy that would set the existing infrastructure and control growth in a meaningful way, and we're confused as to why they want to stick with the status quo. …There's nothing in these bills to say, 'We want to make Florida a better gaming environment.' None of that is in there."

Abboud expressed his frustration, but later said he understood that it was only the first day of the session and pledged to "work diligently and patiently" with lawmakers over the next 60 days.

Gov. Rick Scott has much of the say-so concerning the future of the casino resorts and any gambling legislation at all.

House Speaker Will Weatherford is urging Scott to finalize a $1 billion, five-year agreement with Seminole Tribe of Florida that reaches its "sunset" point next year. The agreement would have an impact on the amount of revenues the tribe pays to the state.

"As of right now, day one of session, with the governor's office and the compact and all that stuff, it's just too early to give a fair answer," said House Select Committee on Gaming Chairman Rob Schenck when asked if the casino resorts would ultimately make it into the House plan.

"I'm not going to answer that question now," said Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Garrett Richter, when asked if he was "dug in" over the casinos. "It's too early in the process. Now that I know here's the Senate and here's the House (plans), why would I turn my card on how dug in or not dug in I'm going to be?"