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Updated: 11/02/2013 08:00:01AM

Gambling expansion could hurt Florida’s image

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Officials whose turf includes Disney World and other Central Florida amusement venues decried on Wednesday the possibility of legislative changes that could expand gambling in the state.

The officials told members of the Senate Gaming Committee that any expansion would alter Florida’s well-crafted image as a family friendly destination.

Meanwhile, officials from smaller communities that have sought to revive dog tracks and other pari-mutuel operations through offering poker and slot machines voiced support for more games during a hearing at George Jenkins High School in Lakeland.

Those backers of additional gaming were joined by a number of senior patrons of the Seminoles Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa and supporters of now-closed adult arcades.

With a focus on the economic and social impacts of gambling as the hearing opened, committee members clearly heard two potential paths for the future of gaming from a diverse group of about 75 Floridians.

The hearing was the second of four planned across the state by the committee.

“When I think of high tech I don’t think of gambling, certainly not casino gambling,” Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.

Jacobs added the world-class theme parks in her region could see their brands undermined by the introduction of casino gaming.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings added his counterparts from across the nation have told him that “wherever there is an expansion of lawful gambling, there is a corresponding increase in unlawful gambling.”

But officials from Bonita Springs told the senators to consider the individual desires of local communities when pondering new gambling regulations.

Lee County voters last November supported allowing slot machines at the Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track. With slot machines outside of the Seminole properties limited to pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the voter-approved measure in Lee County and others like it remain blocked.

Bonita Springs City Manager Carl Schwing said limiting dog racing and adding slots would provide needed temporary construction jobs and permanent jobs that, at $39,000, would pay above the county average.

“It would have a moderate impact on the state, but it would have a big impact on the city,” Bonita Springs City Commissioner Martha Simons. “I’d rather keep the money in my state.”

Donna Blevins of Inverness, who called herself a Southern Baptist and professional poker player, supported legislation to regulate online poker.

“Poker is not going away,” said Blevins, who runs a blog called Big Girl Poker. “It’s time Florida state coffers started to benefit from the revenue.”

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