Florida: How much is too much?; Sheldon Adelson, ventriloquist

By David McKee ~ January 20th, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

Those $2 billion megaresorts mooted for Florida will have a much easier time making their nut if state Rep. Erik Fresen (R, left) holds sway. In an attempt to woo recalcitrant conservatives, Fresen is proposing various restraints on gambling’s growth in the Sunshine State. By contrast, a bill forwarded by state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R, below) looks like an all-out jailbreak. She’d permit: continued operation — under state oversight — 0f Internet-cafĂ© or maquinitas-parlor casinos, leave all existing parimutuels eligible for slot machines and (with an assist from the state’s Supreme Court) throw the whole state open to megaresort development. There’d still only be three but they wouldn’t be saturated in one area.

Bogdanoff’s basically serving up a combination platter of disincentives for major development, with one substantial goodie (geographic diversity) for dessert. Fresen’s bill is the mirror opposite but it holds out two juicy carrots for existing parimutuel-casino operators: A) tax-rate parity at 10% of gross revenues and B) potential repurchase of existing casino licenses using gambling-tax money. That’s right … the state would use public monies (collected from casinos) to buy out and close four existing casinos, like Isle of Capri‘s Pompano Park racino. For once, the word “surreal” is appropriate. Because of the glutinous pace of House legislation and strong opposition among Fresen’s colleagues, however, the casino industry had best not count its flamingos before they hatch.

Besides, with South Florida experiencing a rebound, the hotel industry is sending mixed signals about the proposed casino influx. Too many new rooms, their rates subsidized by gambling revenues, have hoteliers rightly wary. However, minimum budgets of $2 billion — and Genting has anted up at least $4 billion — dictate that casino operators will have to run their hotels as profit centers, which may avert downward pressure on ADRs. Besides, the allure of additional convention traffic may be too powerful to resist. Interestingly, the Miami Herald dug up ex-Mandalay Bay prexy Glenn Schaeffer. He’s done such a complete vanishing act since the Fontainebleau debacle on the Strip, you half-expect to see his picture on the side of milk cartons.

(Update: Dazzled by Genting’s presentation, area Tea Party bigwig Everett Wilkinson has given the Fresen bill his endorsement. That means Florida casinos are backed by an unlikely coalition uniting Teeps with Big Labor. However, Wilkinson exposes his ignorance of history and constitutionality when he grumbles that he “never understood why only the Indians and certain individuals should be allowed into the gaming industry.” It’s a long story, Ev, but you might want to start with a little federal law we like to call the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, fondly known as “IGRA.” See also “Jeb Bush,” “Florida voters,” “religious conservatism,” “legislative inaction,” etc., etc.)

The great and powerful Shel. While his degree influence down in Florida remains to be seen, Sheldon Adelson‘s a big enough noise in Nevada that its GOP caucus is being moved, at Adelson’s sole behest, lest it conflict with the Jewish Sabbath. (Democratic Jews are SOL, however.) This caps a week in which Adelson’s checkbook got nationwide play.

Although there appears to be a direct correlation between the increasingly bellicose levels of Newt Gingrich‘s rhetoric and the size of the checks Adelson writes him, the warmongering casino mogul offered this pro forma copout when questioned on the matter. “My motivation for helping Newt is simple and should not be mistaken for anything other than the fact that my wife Miriam and I hold our friendship with him very dear and are doing what we can as private citizens to support his candidacy.” Makes the Gingrich campaign sound like a charitable endeavor, no? (Adelson’s right-hand man, Michael Leven, tells a somewhat different story, depicting the CEO in a more Napoleonic light.) Adelson-to-English translation: “Don’t hold me responsible for anything that guy says. I just like to give him $7.7 million every now and then.” And if you believe that

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, Gingrich has learned to channel Adelson’s whiny, petulant venom toward that uppity Fourth Estate, which Sheldon has (unsuccessfully) attempt to litigate into worshipful silence. You gotta hand it to Adelson: Unlike Edgar Bergen, he doesn’t move his lips until after his version of Charlie McCarthy speaks. Masterful. According to one Adelson crony, he and Gingrich are just a couple of regular guys who like to spend “the majority of their day trying to think of how to make America great.” That and maybe comparing notes on hair-care products or shamelessly sucking up to China, another shared passion. (Sheldon should probably spend the majority of his day trying to think of how to make Las Vegas Sands‘ stock price higher, but I’m old-fashioned that way.)

Those impertinent scribes at the Philadelphia Inquirer have the punchline of the day, though. An Adelson mouthpiece claims his boss “preferred to keep his political activities private.” Hey, a few million here, five million there and people tend to notice. As a businessman, Adelson is an inarguable success. As a covert operative, he’s a total bust.

Question of the day: Do people who grease the levers of democracy with large sums of money have a right to privacy? Beats the heck outta me.

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