Chan Lowe: Florida gambling

Back in 1984, when I first arrived in Florida, we didn’t even have a state lottery. Up north — that is to say, Tallahassee — the quaint attitude (shared by many southern states) prevailed that the vice of gambling brought with it crime, prostitution, drugs, and all manner of related sins.


That was before the really big money started flooding the place, bringing along with it generational changes in attitude about what is moral, what the state’s role is in regulating same, and what gambling could do for Florida’s coffers.


Transplants from states that had lotteries were openly wondering why on Earth Florida didn’t have its own. A lottery is harmless fun, so the line went, and has no downside unless you’re a gambling addict. Legislators who may have worried about a backlash from sanctimonious constituents managed to sell it as a big moneymaker for the schools. Of course, that turned out not to be true, but at the time they said it and really believed it.


Thus began the slippery slope. Once the moral bulwark had been broached, “gaming,” which is the artful euphemism for gambling, metastasized throughout the state. The Seminoles decided that since they were a sovereign nation, they could open full-fledged Vegas-style casinos on their lands if they chose to, and the State of Florida was left to craft a deal whereby it could rake in at least a portion of their proceeds.


This ticked off the racing and jai alai interests (which, for some reason, were not considered immoral), so they got their card rooms and other gambling. Now we have mega-resort interests  — whose tide of lobbying lucre now bathes our bumpkin legislators — trying to turn South Florida into a warmer version of Atlantic City.


Disney and the other family-oriented, good-clean-fun tourism interests are against gambling’s spread, and they’re not exactly pikers in the influence department.


If students of civics want to see how government really operates, they may wish to examine the way the Florida Legislature deals with the “gaming” question next session. The sausage factory should be working three shifts.

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