By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
Florida’s Constitution bans gambling except pari-mutuels such as horse racing. Stymied, special interests have thrice pushed amendments to allow casino gambling:
In 1978, they lost 1,720,275 to 687,460.
In 1986, they lost 2,237,555 to 1,056,250.
In 1994, they lost 2,555,492 to 1,566,451.In 2004, however, despite principled opposition from then-Gov. Jeb Bush, Floridians narrowly (3,631,261 to 3,512,181) approved letting voters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, respectively, decide whether to allow slot machines in pari-mutuel facilities. This well-funded amendment – touting local control — slipped through in a Presidential election year and opened the door for expanding gambling.Coincidentally, in 2004 Floridians also voted overwhelmingly (4,519,423 to 2,573,280) to repeal a previous amendment requiring the state to “proceed with the development and operation” of high speed rail.Given that the state Constitution bans casino gambling, voters statewide have overwhelmingly rejected it, and elected officials – including the current governor — pledged to oppose any expansion of it, Floridians might wonder why they’re now seeing gambling’s steady expansion — plus a costly high-speed rail project. The answer can be spelled out: m-o-n-e-y. Government’s appetite for more revenue has prompted some officials to circumvent the state Constitution and the ignore voters’ voices.The casino excuse: Indians made us do it. Hence, Florida is negotiating a deal with its Seminole Tribe, giving the tribe a monopoly on some forms of gambling in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars – a small share of the lucrative profits casinos glean from losers.Gambling is one of those issues that tests a libertarian’s fealty to the “live and let live” ideal in which consenting adults are free to do as they please if their conduct causes no harm. Perhaps a thorough cost-benefit study of the experiences of other gambling hotspots can determine whether Florida’s casino experience is likely to be beneficial or harmful.Meanwhile, the public’s growing perception that elected officials don’t listen to them – one of several motivations behind the “tea party” movement – is likely to worsen as Florida plods ahead with casinos and high-speed rail, two dubious propositions to which Floridians said “No!”