PANAMA CITY — What’s all the fuss about?
That could be the summation of the state Legislature’s draft report on the social and economic impacts of expanding gambling in Florida — and it could serve as a douse of cold water for both advocates and opponents. The report, however, will be revised and some of the final numbers could be “way different,” a state official said Tuesday.
The study, conducted by Spectrum Gaming Group, will surely disappoint some who tout gambling’s expansion as a panacea for Florida’s jobs and economy.
“Overall, Spectrum believes that the expansion of casino gambling, whether on a small scale or very large scale, would have, at best, a moderately positive impact on the state economy,” the study said.
The report agreed that gaming’s expansion would likely increase the state’s tax revenue — provided it attracted tourists and kept casino tax rates above sales tax levels — but the sheer size of Florida’s economy would blunt any large-scale effect on jobs and personal income.
“There are likely to be only mild positive impacts on local and statewide employment and wages, however,” the study said.
It pointed out the areas being considered for major gaming expansion — notably South Florida — are counties with large populations already and “would not represent a large expansion of their local economies ... .”
The study acknowledged gambling’s potential social costs, most notably addiction, but said it found these costs “would not change dramatically, especially since gambling opportunities are already widespread across Florida.”
“Upon systematic examination, the research fails to demonstrate that gambling expansion has changed the prevalence of gambling related problems,” the study said.
It noted research on social cost is limited and the numbers can vary depending on how social cost is defined. The study said long-range studies spanning several years are needed to yield definitive results on gambling’s impact on public health and welfare.
Only the study’s third draft was released Tuesday, though the final report was slated to come out. State officials spent the day sorting through the study’s problems and ultimately concluded to release only the draft report and extend Spectrum’s deadline
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, released a statement, along with the report, at the end of day Tuesday, saying the problems likely would be sorted out by Nov. 1. He said the state economist had asked for some clarifications on the tables in the report, but emphasized lawmakers were not trying to tinker with the numbers.
“The Legislature has not and will not request that any outcomes (in the study) be changed,” he said.
John Guthrie, staff director for the state Senate Gaming Committee, said it was a hectic day as they reviewed the study, and said ultimately Gaetz and state Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, felt it was more important to get it right rather than release the final version by the deadline.
The Legislature paid $388,845 for the study and the first part of it was released in July.
“Some of the numbers are going to change, perhaps significantly, in the final report,” Guthrie said, adding, “There are issues with the economic analysis.”
Guthrie said some of the numbers would be “way different” when the final version comes out.