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Casino carpetbaggers meet more opposition, get nastier

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Casino carpetbaggers meet more opposition, get nastier

Casino carpetbaggers meet more opposition, get nastier

By Michael Lewis
    It's not a good holiday season for the casino invaders, who were riding so high three months ago that we pleaded for anyone to battle the juggernaut.
   Fortunately, gambling forces decided they were indeed invincible and vastly underestimated us, betting they already had enough of us on their payrolls to legalize mega-casinos.
   But many refused to be cowed, so we now have a good chance to defeat misguided state bills that would quickly ram a new way of life down our throats without a public vote.
   In a turnabout, Miami-Dade's mayor, commission chairman and a leading commissioner refused to endorse casinos at a Beacon Council gambling forum last week. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado had pulled back earlier. Miami Beach commissioners soon reaffirmed their opposition to a casino incursion.
   Even early advocates — those not on casino payrolls — now doubt claims, looking at the harm casinos could do here and already do elsewhere.
   Maybe they heard that Atlantic City casinos' revenues have fallen 39 straight months and one casino nearly closed. If it's so bad there, why import it?
   Insiders even say casino bills are dead in 2012. But Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez noted that so much money is trying to force casinos on us that we can't count them out.
   One thing we're learning: casinos are bad losers. They're cocky when riding high, but nasty when the tide turns.
   They follow the old trial lawyer's adage: if the facts are against you, argue the law; if the law is against you, argue the facts; when both are against you, call names.
   So we hear names from Carlos Curbelo, who represents the public on the school board while he's paid to serve Genting, owner of Resorts World Miami, in trying to pick the public's pocket:
   "There are a relatively small number of voices criticizing this legislation. There is a major disconnect between what the overwhelming majority of residents want and what the wealthy business interests are saying," Mr. Curbelo said, ignoring business interests like himself paid by Genting to pass a casino law.
   The last thing we need is casino teams saying fat cats aim to hold back the rest of us. Mr. Curbelo lacks the law and the facts, so he aims to divide and conquer.
   He's not alone. Rep. Erik Fresen, who does casino interests' work with a bill they could have written for him, responded to a thought that casinos could drive out major cultural events like Art Basel Miami Beach by telling the Beacon Council forum that "99% of my constituency doesn't go to Art Basel.... It doesn't put a paycheck in someone's pocket."
   Weren't 50,000 people from around the globe and booming business in hotels, restaurants and elsewhere contributing to paychecks? If it's good for us, why is it bad?
   Or take ex-congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, now paid by Genting — they didn't buy everyone, but they tried. He also sought to show that foes of mega-casinos are self-serving fat cats.
   "I am asking our citizens to see through the scare tactics, often rooted in hidden economic interests, and support the legislation...," he wrote, ignoring that virtually every casino gambling spokesman seems to have more than "economic interests" — they get casino checks. If they detest hidden interests, let all of them expose theirs.
   Though opinion leaders gag on divisive criticism and ever-changing claims from mega-casinos, it still won't halt the incursion. South Florida has the money and casinos want to ship it back home.
   If outnumbered, the casinos will instead seek regulators who would cost taxpayers at least $1 million a year and would stay on the state payroll only if they get casinos to oversee.
   So regulators would become tax-paid proponents for casinos, just as state-paid Secretary of the Florida Lottery Cynthia F. O'Connell penned a Miami Herald column this month beginning "The Florida Lottery is good for our state..." Well, it's certainly good for her — it's her job.
   Casinos bank on a key factor: Miami-Dade has no formal vision for its future. As long as we lack an aim, whatever we do will get us there — wherever "there" is.
   But the One Community One Goal team the Beacon Council spearheads with buy-in from others could deter the attack. Its study, half done, aims at a framework for choosing a future with more and better jobs that fit our lifestyle.
   That should scare the mega-casinos, because it's unlikely that a thorough study would uphold their cry that gambling is our economic salvation.
   No matter what economic aims Miami's leaders set, however, one bet is sure: casinos will try again and again, year after year. They've been trying to invade Florida for decades and three times lost statewide votes.
   They won't quit.
   They're like bugs: they keep invading, so we've got to keep spraying.

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