Florida lawmakers are faced with yet another important issue this election year: gambling.
Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for the U.S. Senate, is pushing the Legislature to sign a $433 million deal, which allows for an expansion of gambling for the Seminole Indian Tribe’s casinos in Florida.
During a visit to his old elementary school, Crist announced a $22.7 billion increase in education funding – a 2.61 percent increase from the previous year.
In order to increase public funding, the Legislature should prioritize the deal when the legislative session begins March 2.
“It’s very important,” Crist said at the St. Petersburg school. “To leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table when we have an opportunity to get that approved and benefit these children, why wouldn’t you do it? It’s common sense.”
But one legislative committee has already rejected the Seminole Indian gambling deal, saying it would harm similar businesses and the state’s racetracks, according to The Associated Press.
Some conservative lawmakers realized the importance of gambling revenue in the state but are not jumping on Crist’s bandwagon just yet.
“No matter what my personal views are, that doesn’t mean gambling is going to go away,” Rep. Alan Hays said to the Orlando Sentinel. “With that in mind, I feel it’s my obligation to the people of Florida to try to get the best deal we can.”
Hays criticized Crist’s plan, saying the state should own casinos and hire private operators to run them if the Seminoles will make $4 billion in profit and the state only gets $800 million of it.
“That one line right there shows you there is a ton of money that can go into Floridians’ pockets,” said Hays, R-Umatilla. “We can reduce taxes or we can certainly fund a whole lot more education with $3.2 billion than we can with $800 million.”
Rep. Ellen Bogdanoff proposes a “Gaming Equalization Act,” which would lure gambling executives to build beachside hotel casinos to create competition, rather than assisting the Seminole Tribe, according to the Sentinel.
Florida has the potential to be the next Las Vegas, but a free market or government-owned approach to gambling should not be considered.
The state’s education system cannot afford to wait any longer for funding. These approaches have the potential to bring revenue years from now, while education is poorly underfunded until then.
Florida is the sixth largest state in the nation for gambling income – $7 billion last year, according to the Sentinel. Expanding Seminole gambling will bring more money for education.
The state’s education budget hasn’t been increased in the past two years, according to the AP. It is important to invest in education because the state’s future will be dependent on the children who are going to school now.
Revenue from the Seminole Indian’s casino will allow for the much-needed $167 million Crist has proposed for university and community college spending.
If approved, this money should be used toward decreasing tuition costs and increasing professor salaries.
When the Legislature gets to work next month, gambling expansion and education funding should be first on the agenda.
Xhenis Berberi is a senior majoring in political science and economics.