Gambling Expansion: Much Ado about Nothing

The Florida legislature has approved a new 30-year gambling deal (SB 2A) between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida over objections of the usual suspects: conservative Christians. Although I am one of them theologically, and to a lesser extent politically, and share their aversion to gambling, I much prefer a free society to a nanny state.

The Florida House voted 97-17 in favor of the deal and the Senate voted 38-1. The eighteen “no” votes were evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

Said Governor Ron DeSantis in a statement: “The breakdown of the 2010 compact has denied the state of Florida any revenue derived from the Seminole Tribe’s ongoing gaming operations — including what is the most profitable casino in the United States, located in Hillsborough County. This changes today.”

As a resident of Florida, I would certainly prefer that the state receive its revenue from gambling operations rather than institute an income tax, raise the sales tax rate, or enact new taxes.

According to the official summary of the 2021 Gaming Compact that “provides the Seminole Tribe with partial but significant additional substantial exclusivity for specified gaming activities in Florida,” the Seminole Tribe is authorized to continue its current gambling operations (slot machines, blackjack, baccarat, poker) and permitted to now offer table games, such as craps and roulette, at its gaming facilities. Additionally, the compact

authorizes sports betting on professional and collegiate sport events by players physically located in the State who may use a mobile or other electronic device, exclusively by and through sports books conducted and operated by the Seminole Tribe, which must contract with any willing, qualified pari-mutuel permitholder to perform marketing and similar services in support of the sports books, for compensation of not less than 60% of the profit associated with wagering by the permitholder’s registered patrons through the permitholder’s branded website or mobile application. Such wagering is to be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the Seminole Tribe where the servers or other devices used to conduct such wagering activity on the Seminole Tribe’s Indian lands are located.

It is still illegal to host a blackjack tournament in your home, possess a roulette wheel or crap table, or turn your business into a casino. Amendment 3, the Voter Approval of Casino Gambling Initiative that was passed by Florida voters in 2018, is still in force. It gives voters the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in the State of Florida.”

The gambling expansion in Florida is much ado about nothing. How many conservative Christians who gathered in the courtyard of the Florida Capitol building on the day that the Florida legislature voted on the gambling deal even knew exactly what was being voted on? How many of them actually read the gaming compact?

I think it is hilarious that so many Republicans voted to approve the gambling deal. Why? Because when these Republicans ran for office we were told by pastors and religious leaders that we needed to “vote biblically” and “vote for traditional values”—both meaning “vote Republican.” And now the Republicans that conservative Christians helped to elect are giving them the finger.

“Gambling has negative outcomes for children and families from low-income backgrounds,” said Brandon Peters, a Tampa Democrat, who spoke at the rally. “Those who can least afford to lose money in casinos, represent the lion share of casino profits. Now, if any politician voting on these issues thinks that is good for their county or their district, I like to meet them,” he added.  “Because poor people getting poorer is the opposite of lifting up our poorest communities.”

“Keep Florida Family Friendly. No Casinos!” read one of the signs held by protestors, ignoring the fact that Florida is anything but “family friendly” right now. If Florida is to be kept “family friendly,” then the state will need to not only eliminate its lottery and crackdown on prostitution, but ban strip clubs, massage parlors, adult stores, and pornography that are prevalent throughout the state.

As a conservative Christian, do I support the gambling industry? Of course not. But I am not dumb enough to believe that everyone who throws his money away at a casino is addicted to gambling, neglecting his family, draining his bank account, going into debt, ruining his life, or is one step away from committing a crime.

Gambling may be immoral, it may be a vice, it may be a waste of money, it may be sinful, it may be addictive, it may be a bad habit, it may be financially ruinous, and it may not be “family friendly,” but it is not the business of government to prevent anyone from doing it or to punish anyone for doing it. And it is certainly improper for conservative Christians and other opponents of gambling to lobby the government to do so.