Florida Lawmakers Delay Highly Anticipated Gambling Study
A $400,000 gambling report will be delayed because it is too confusing and needs to be reviewed for accuracy, according to Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples.
The final portions of a three-part study by Spectrum Gaming Group were due to the Legislature on Tuesday, the same day executives at the New Jersey-based gambling research firm asked for another 30 days to complete the study conducted with its partner Regional Economic Models Inc., or REMI.
"We must respectfully request an extension of the deadline in order to fully review the results of the REMI model, which require more detailed examination to ensure their accuracy, and that those results are presented in a manner that is clear and understandable to all readers," Spectrum Managing Director Michael Pollock wrote in a letter to Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, on Tuesday.
The highly anticipated report includes complicated analyses of how different gambling scenarios would impact the state economy and a projection of how casinos would impact jobs and revenue in different counties.
A draft of the report obtained by The News Service of Florida on Monday and released to the public Tuesday evening concluded that even a full-blown casino wonderland would do little to help Florida's finances, and could even hurt.
"Overall, Spectrum believes that the expansion of casino gambling, whether on a small scale or very large scale, would have, at best, a moderately positive impact on the state economy," the draft report said.
While the "vast majority of the report is in its final form," Spectrum needed more time to "answer questions posed by State Economist Amy Baker and clarify statistical tables related to the REMI economic impact model," Gaetz, who along with Weatherford signed off on the delay, wrote in a memo to the Senate late Tuesday.
A month ago, legislative staff asked Spectrum to revise a previous draft of the report because of concerns about assumptions built into the REMI analysis. The analysis was based in part on an assumption that a compact with the Seminole Indian Tribe, set to expire in 2015 unless reauthorized by the governor and the Legislature, would be renewed. The part of the deal at issue gives the Seminoles the exclusive rights to operate card games like blackjack and baccarat at tribal casinos in exchange for about $233 million in annual payments to the state.
As of Tuesday, the Legislature's economists remained uncertain that the complicated financial analyses matched up with their own assumptions used to estimate state revenues.
Gaetz insisted that the report was not rejected because of its content.
"The Legislature has not and will not request that any outcomes be changed," he wrote.
Richter said he has had not seen the 464-page draft before the extension was granted.
"There is absolutely nothing in the report that either satisfies or dissatisfies me,'' Richter said. "Furthermore, I have not had any conversations with staff or the president about their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the direction the report is going in."
Although he had not seen the report, Richter said he learned it was confusing and supported the delay.
"The report's not very easy to understand. We want information that is meaningful, reliable and understandable," Richter said.
Richter and his House counterparts plan to rely heavily on the Spectrum report as they consider changes to the state's gambling landscape.
"We're putting a lot of value and weight on this report," Richter said last week.
The setback with the final report won't postpone the work of the Senate committee, slated to meet Monday to hear from and query Spectrum analysts. The committee will hold four meetings across the state later this month and in November. The committee will also take comments from the public on its website, according to Gaetz.
Richter said Spectrum will have to answer questions about how the researchers arrived at the conclusion that the addition of destination resorts or allowing the state's pari-mutuels to have blackjack or possibly roulette would have just a moderately positive economic impact.
"I want to see the context under which they draw that conclusion. It's human nature to disagree, challenge or support any type of report," he said.
The report will be the basis for lawmakers to "begin to draw conclusions or at least generate discussions," he said.
"The discussion can be, why did you come up with that conclusion? There are people in a different realm right now at the national level talking about Obamacare. There are reports saying Obamacare is going to be the best thing since sliced bread. There are other reports saying it's going to ruin America," he said.