House panel unsatisfied with gaming study’s conclusions

Published: Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 02:14 PM.

TALLAHASSEE — Some state lawmakers aren’t ready to accept a study’s conclusion that expanding gambling would have a minimal impact on jobs and the Florida economy.

The Spectrum Gaming Group presented the $388,845 study before the state House Select Committee on Gaming Wednesday. Expanding slots and destination casinos would only have a “moderately positive” effect on the economy and a “mild” effect on wages and employment in the state, said Joseph Weinert, Spectrum’s vice president.

The study contends that the state’s economy is so large and the counties most likely to get casinos — Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Orange — are so populous that the impact would be negligible.

That wasn’t the answer Rep. Jim Waldman, the ranking Democrat on the committee, wanted to hear. He noted the job increases would be in the thousands regardless of whether the local population was big enough to make them statistically insignificant.

The study found opening up Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Orange to stand-alone casinos and slot machines would add more than 18,000 jobs in the “leisure and hospitality” and “other services” sectors. And nearly 1,500 new businesses would open in those sectors.

Locally, the Ebro Greyhound Park has long sought slot machines and in 2011 Washington County voters, through a local referendum, approved putting them at the dog track, which also has a card room. The study found adding slot machines would increase the number of businesses in the county by only 2 percent and would increase jobs in the “leisure and hospitality” and “other services” sectors by 3.5 percent (21 jobs). It would also increase wages in those sectors by about 3 percent.

The numbers, however, don’t reveal whole truth. The Ebro track owners announced plans last year to install 2,000 slots at a $300 million facility, which would include a hotel with up to 500 rooms as well as retail, restaurants and an entertainment venue. The hotel alone would likely employ dozens of locals.

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