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By Everett Wilkinson - Chairman South Florida Tea Party & Florida Tea Party
I have to admit that I was less than thrilled when I received an invitation to attend the unveiling of destination casino resort in Miami last September. My initial thoughts were that I had received the invitation by mistake as I am neither a gambler nor a proponent of gambling. After a quick Internet search and few phone calls, I decided to attend as a representative of the tea party and see the fiscal impact. Specifically I was looking for taxes and government involvement and any taint of a monopoly.
Once I arrived, my preconceived notions quickly disappear. The company was rolling out an incredible, beautiful resort, not a ugly cheap casino. The architecture was iconic, Genting, the developers, had also taken great lengths to invite all members of the community to participate in the roll out of a world class resort casino. I noticed African Americans, Dominicans, Haitians, small business people and both Republicans and Democrats. I can’t begin to applaud the level professional presentation and attention to details. The actual design which resembled giant sails or sea shells was the most unique breathtaking design I have for a casino! I would be proud to have such a beautiful building in South Florida.
Putting back my fiscal conservative hat, I started to dig into the financials and impact to the economy. I started by following the money. To pass a casino bill we must replace about $1Billion now guarantee to the state by the Seminoles under their gaming compact. Three casinos in Dade and Broward would help fill that hole but it requires the inclusion of the seven parimutuel facilities in Dade and Broward that already have slots and cards. These parimutuels must be included in the bill to legalize gaming and given the same table games and tax rate to generate more revenue for the state.
Without the parimutuels the three casino in South Florida would have to gross more than the entire Las Vegas strip at a 10% tax rate to replace the Indian revenues. These facilities in combination with the three casinos proposed by Rep Erick Fresen will likely far surpass the $1B from the Indians. They must fill the hole.
Another core value of the tea party is free markets. If a bill is passed to legalize destination gaming, we must have free markets and competitions. I have never understood why only the Indians and certain individuals should be allowed into the gaming industry. Thanks to Former Gov. Crist, the Seminole Indians pay the lowest amount to the state on gaming in the country while our parimutuels pay one of the highest in taxes. This could be achieved by lowering the tax on parmutuels to 10-15% the same rate as the new casinos and providing the three licenses in South Florida. There shouldn’t be any 75 mile barriers or exclusions. We must have free markets and competition.
I met KT Lim and Colin Au from Genting before the presentation -- they are free-market guys. If they were US citizens they would be tea party supporters. KT Lim's father grew up dirt poor. He understood free enterprise and hard-work as well as a keeping your word. He built a great fortune. His son, KT Lim has taken the company to the next level. The resorts these folks have built in Asia are huge economic engines- what we need to get South Florida's economy moving.
Many people in South Florida want a local county referendum like what was required when voters in Miami- Dade and Broward voters approved slots at the tracks and Jai Alai frontons. Some argue we don't need a referendum because voters in these two counties have approved slots. Others say voters didn't approve mega-casinos and there should be a new vote.
I concluded my initial research with a membership poll for Florida Tea Party members. The current proposal has huge amount of support with over 86% (3791 of 625 votes). Our members’ comments reflected excitement over the opportunity of the proposed resort. Even those opposed to gambling in general saw benefit in building world class resorts in South Florida. In all cases, our members strongly supported the idea of people being able to decide by county if they would like to build gaming resorts.
My final thoughts on the proposed resort would be described as optimistic. The resort would have an enormous positive impact financially and for jobs in Miami and South Florida. The resort would create an estimated 5000 new jobs at a temporary facility, 25,000 jobs at the permanent facility, and 10,000 construction jobs (it would be 20,000 if this was a big Union state--and half of them would be working!) I started to think of it as a resort that had gambling versus a Las Vegas casino. It was apparent that all my preconceived notions about Genting were wrong. Although the current legislation is far from perfect, I believe that any legislator that is opposed to building resort casinos which will create thousands of jobs in South Florida should be given the title of “Job Killing Czar”. The Tea Party will be watching this bill closely and hold legislators accountable in November.
Everett "Dirksen" Wilkinson is the Chairman of the South Florida Tea Party & State Coordinator for Florida Tea Party. His parents named him after legendary Republican US Senator Everett Dirksen who was the Congressman for Peoria, Illinois where Wilkinson's mother grew up. The South Florida Tea Party is the largest and most active Tea Party in Florida with over 57,000 active members. Florida Party has over 150 tea party groups.