Adelson and Disney Face Off Over Gambling Expansion in Florida

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Florida gambling expansion Sheldon Adelson Genting
Florida Governor Rick Scott is accepting campaign contributions from both sides, but not taking a clear stance on gambling expansion in an election year (Image:

Few industry figureheads in recent memory have gained as much high-profile notoriety as Sheldon Adelson. His formation of the anti-online Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling has been widely covered. Adelson’s use of his status as a billionaire to push legislation that would place bans on Internet gambling has made him the target of ire by many. The Las Vegas Sands CEO’s efforts are seen as hypocritical by the gaming community and are viewed as a way to funnel money to his successful land-based operations. And, without a doubt, his newest venture into the United States gaming industry is going to draw some attention.

Sunshine State Expansion

Florida will yet again become a battleground state as it decides the future of its own gaming industry. Only eight Seminole Indian casinos currently compromise the entire gambling landscape for Florida. It’s no surprise then that Genting Berhad and the Las Vegas Sands—both in the Adelson camp—are seeking to expand the juicy Floridian market. To accomplish their goal, both companies will be investing a great deal of money into lobbyists and campaign funding to spread the word and push past the upcoming law.

The Mouse Factor

The fight for Florida isn’t going to be an easy one for Adelson and his team, however. They face opposition in the form of the Walt Disney Company, owner of Disney World and a good number of other theme parks and resorts across Florida. Disney will be using its equally impressive wealth and power to prevent an expansion of Florida gaming. Though the company claims they are fighting against gaming and to maintain the “family friendly” image Disney is famous for bringing to Florida, there’s most likely another motivation.

“Gambling interests in Las Vegas and Atlantic City are looking for new territory and opening Florida would be tremendous. The fear for Disney is that, instead of people going to Disney and dropping their disposable income, they’ll go to the destination casinos and drop their money there,” said Robert Jarvis, a gambling law professor in Fort Lauderdale.

The potential also exists for the convention and trade show industry to be affected by gaming’s expansion. At the moment, Disney offers 700,000 square feet of meeting space across its resort properties. But if the Adelson lobby were to be successful in legalizing non-Indian tribe gaming in Florida, Genting will attempt to build the world’s largest casino in Miami, which would take up 750,000 square feet of space.

Push for Territory

With so much on the line, both Adelson and Disney are throwing in a lot of cash to maintain their interests. Adelson and his team stand by their opinion that an expansion for Florida gaming would boost the state’s economy by bringing in more jobs and more tourism benefits. Disney claims it would instead damage existing tourism and businesses. Governor Rick Scott and other state lawmakers have yet to make any sort of decision on the matter. But one thing to keep in mind is that since 2012, Disney has donated $1.7 million of a total $3.4 million that has gone towards politicians.

While Adelson and Disney hold a great deal of influence, the Seminoles who make up the current gaming market also play an important role in the industry. In 2010, the tribe signed a compact with Florida guaranteeing $1 billion of shared revenue to the state. The compact would last five years and expand if larger profits were made. However, Florida risks losing that tax revenue as a clause in the contract says the Seminoles won’t have to pay anything if gaming is expanded.

A bill is currently being drafted which has the possibility of being introduced at the next legislative session on March 4.

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