Opposition to Florida’s Gambling Expansion

A lot of people, including other blackjack blogs, don’t seem to understand the complexities of the issue of expanded gambling in the state of Florida. As you know, the Seminole tribe has been in negotiations with state lawmakers for a deal that would give them exclusive rights to offer blackjack in their tribal casinos. There is, however, opposition to this deal from third parties. Many gambling writers choose to see only two groups of opposition, the “self-righteous and hypocritical Bible-thumpers” and the “greedy pari-mutuels who don’t want competition.”

Both of those portrayals are inaccurate and they also don’t show other very legitimate reasons for opposing the deal currently being discussed. I will attempt to set the record straight here.

First of all, let me say that as a blackjack player and writer, I am for allowing blackjack in the state of Florida, and every state for that matter. However, just because you support something doesn’t mean you should turn a blind eye to all of the issues surrounding it.

Right now, a lot of people are portraying those pari-mutuels as villains who want to ensure that they have no competition, but that portrayal is so wrong it’s laughable. They say that the dog and horse tracks want to be assured that they’re the only gambling game in town and they want to keep the Seminole tribe from competing with them. In truth, the opposite is true. The Seminole tribe is trying to squash competition and make sure that they’re the only game in town. In fact, that is one of their demands for the contract.

You see, if the current deal is accepted by all sides, the Seminole tribe will have exclusive rights to offer blackjack. That means that pari-mutuels cannot offer the game and it means that if I want to open up my own casino, I can’t offer blackjack, either. That goes against the American ideals of a free market and competition. The last time I checked, Florida was a free state in the free country of America, so how can the state legislature sign a contract stating that one group can provide a service that no one else can?

To be honest, it’s unconstitutional. The U.S. Constitution provides for equal protection and equal freedom for everyone and expressly prohibits giving preferential treatment to any specific groups. The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act states that native tribes may offer any game that is allowed in the state in which they are located. However, blackjack not only is not currently allowed in Florida, but if the current contract is accepted by lawmakers, it would be illegal for anyone other than the Seminoles to provide the game. Therefore, the deal is in clear violation of not only the Constitution, but also the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act as well. The pari-mutuels are not being greedy by trying to avoid competition; they only want to ensure that there is competition and a free, legal market for blackjack.

Religious groups and family organizations are also against the deal, not wanting blackjack to be allowed in the state at all. Some say that they are being too controlling in thinking that they know what’s best for everyone, and that’s probably true. They feel that gambling is immoral and leads to problems in society and for that reason are against it. I think they are wrong, but I try not to judge the beliefs of others. However, there is also this idea that they’re hypocrites because Florida already has gambling in horse and dog tracks (and the current Seminole casinos). That is not accurate, though, because those same groups were also against that gambling and already fought the battle against allowing betting in Florida. They lost and will probably lose this time as well.

There is another misconception that I would like to clear up that is important and that is the money. I’ve heard countless proponents of the deal say that we need to allow blackjack in the Seminole casinos for the children! You see, the money is supposed to go to education and if we don’t get that money, there will be a closing of schools and laying off of teachers and our children will suffer. That, again, is not entirely accurate.

It sounds a little too familiar to me. You see, in 1988, lawmakers in Florida wanted to create a state lottery and the voters were skeptical. Those voters were won over, though, when told that money raised by the Lotto would fund education. Since it was for a good cause, the people voted to allow the lottery. Since then, the Florida Lottery has raised approximately $14 billion for education, approximately 5% of the budget. Here’s the catch, though: In 1989, the state eliminated approximately 5% of the education budget because money from the lottery was going to be used for that. See how that works? They raised 5% from one area and cut 5% from another. That means the net result was zero. The lottery may technically be funding education, but because a proportionate amount that had been used on education is now used for other things, there is not any more money going to education.

Will the same thing happen with blackjack money? I think it already has. If you look at Governor Charlie Crist’s education budget, there is $433 million in imaginary money that comes from the deal with the Seminole tribe that doesn’t exist. He is spending $433 million in money that he doesn’t have on education. What do you want to bet that there is $433 million in funds that had been used for education that have been diverted elsewhere? The money has to be there somewhere, because Florida is a balanced-budget state.

It is likely that the current deal, or something close to it, will pass. When it does, I’m not confident that there will be an increase in spending for the Department of Education. In fact, I don’t think there needs to be more spending on education. I think the spending simply needs to be done more wisely (but that’s a topic for another time).

Whatever happens, though, let’s put away the rhetoric and stop portraying those who think differently as villains. There are always two sides to a story and things aren’t always as they appear.

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