Casino giants laying the groundwork for Florida expansion are suggesting Orlando is fading as a bastion for resistance.
But critics are claiming they’re also creating a mirage by suggesting voters now prefer local votes to authorize Vegas-style “destination” resorts instead of via a statewide referendum.
Nuance, yes. But major stakes, too.
A poll paid for by the Las Vegas Sands casino giant suggests a large majority of Florida voters would support a casino expansion in Florida in line with the push envisioned by major gambling players targeting South Florida.
The poll, conducted by the Republican polling firm Tarrance Group, found that 57 percent of Florida voters approved allowing gambling in Florida as a revenue generator for the state, while 35 percent disapproved.
Of the 601 likely voters surveyed this month for the Sands poll, 61 percent favored allowing “a limited number of new gaming operations in the state of Florida as a way to create new jobs and boost economic development,” while 35 percent were opposed. The poll was taken Oct. 20-22, with a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.
But the biggest take-away from the poll might be the questions about destination resorts, which Sands and Malaysian-based Genting want to build in Florida. Lawmakers are expected to wade into the politically explosive issue of casino expansion again next spring.
The poll found 63 percent supported destination casinos, and a majority of voters in every major market favored them.
The lowest support, in North Florida, was still greater than 50 percent. And in Orlando, 62 percent of respondents still supported destination casinos.
Fifty-six percent of Orlando voters also were more likely to vote to re-elect a state legislator who voted in favor of a referendum for destination casinos, with only 34 percent less likely — a question meant to suggest there was little downside for lawmakers to oppose expansion.
“At the end of the day, a majority of voters in every single region of the state said they would be in favor of allowing a development of a limited amount of destination resort casinos,” said Tarrance Group pollster Dave Sackett.
The forces opposed to the push — led by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Walt Disney Co., which has already given $1 million in political contributions this year — want statewide solidarity to keep gambling giants from “picking off” communities and creating pressure for others to follow suit.
The poll also suggests a whopping 68 percent support having local votes on destination casinos, in a long-winded question that supporters say shows “voters throughout the state indicate that they would like to have the opportunity to vote on citing destination resort casinos in their own local regions.”
Casino critics called the poll results misleading because surveys have consistently found Florida voters preferred a statewide vote on gambling expansions.
Orlando-based No Casinos Inc. cited its own 2012 Mason-Dixon survey, which found voters at that time were narrowly divided — 42 percent to 44 percent — over destination casinos and preferred a statewide vote.
“They kind of blackmail one community after another. They can go in and pick them off one by one. Before you know it, you kind of have it everywhere,” said Orlando political consultant John Sowinski, who works for the group.
“That’s why they want local rather than statewide [votes], and why voters want statewide rather than local.”
It’s also why any perceptual shift on that question is a big deal.