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Allowing casino gambling in Florida is a safe bet

A report detailing the financial benefits reaped by 13 states that allow Vegas-style gambling establishments was presented to the Florida state Legislature earlier this month, spurring hopes and fears that Florida will soon become a Mecca for gambling.

State Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, has sponsored a bill that would allow four to five casino resorts – featuring blackjack, craps, roulette and baccarat – to compete with the seven casinos on reservations of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Allowing the casinos would be an excellent way to lower the state’s troubling unemployment rate and provide much-needed tax revenue, as Florida still reels from the effects of the recent economic recession.

Florida’s leaders would be wise to take advantage of this opportunity.

Pennsylvania’s state government, one of the states listed in the report, saw windfall profits that totaled $1 billion, resulting from their casinos, while other states posted gains in the hundreds of millions.

Currently, Florida boasts an unemployment rate of nearly 12 percent and the state government faces a projected budget deficit of $3.5 billion, according to state estimates – including $900 million in funding for critical services like the state’s education system and courts.

During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Rick Scott promised to bring 700,000 jobs to Florida over seven years, and his support of this move can certainly help him reach that goal. Companies eager to build casinos in Florida have continually reiterated how financial benefits would stem from not just the casino floors, but also from the large resorts surrounding them, which would feature convention centers, restaurants, retail centers and other entertainment venues that could employ thousands of Floridians.

Florida is already one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, with tourism serving as the long-standing backbone of the state’s economy. Allowing more casinos would draw even more tourism dollars, as the state is in position to compete with or surpass Nevada as the No. 1 gambling destination.

Unlike Las Vegas – which is centrally located in the landlocked Mojave Desert- or other gambling states like Pennsylvania, tourists in Florida are only a short drive away from world-famous ocean beaches. In addition, the family-friendly and immensely popular tourist destinations in Orlando, professional sports action in Tampa Bay and the famous nightlife of South Beach, Miami, can offer visitors a total package that’s truly unmatched.

There’s concern that allowing the casinos would violate the state constitution, though it could easily be amended if the will exists.

Though allowing an increase in gambling may not please the state’s moralists, Florida truly has nothing to lose and everything to gain, with potentially billions of dollars in tax revenue and thousands of much-needed jobs.