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Gambling opponents to track votes, keep lists, in opposition to casino expansion

A coalition of religious and anti-gambling groups said Tuesday they will mount a fierce opposition to legislation to authorize "destination resort" casinos in Florida, including holding lawmakers accountable for their votes.

The groups said they will not only provide a vocal opposition to the bills being shepherded by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, but they will score and publish the voting records of all committee members, mail pledge forms to all 160 legislators, create an online "wall of shame" and research the financial contributions from the gambling industry to lawmakers and the governor.

"We will not sit back idly as the gambling industry attempts to buy out Florida and her elected officials with the corrupting infuence of gaming money,'' said John Stemberger, lobbyist for the conservative Florida Family Policy Council which will host the legislative report cards on its web site.

The group joined Florida Casino Watch, the Florida Catholic Conference, the Florida Baptist Convention and Reps. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, in announcing their opposition to the proposal.

"We've never seen anything like this on this scale, this bold,'' Baxley said.

Bill Bunkley, lobbyist for the Florida Baptist Convention, called the argument by Bogdanoff and Fresen that the bill will curb gambling in Florida by replacing the existing pari-mutuels and Internet cafes with tourist-driven mega resorts "disingenuous."

"There has not been a recent round of any form of gambling expansion where the spin by the proponents has not misled the people by stating that if we make this move or that move we will contain or we will reduce gambling in our state,'' he said. "Here we go again."

He noted that was the promise when the Seminole Indian Compact was signed but, if this bill were to become law, "the Seminoles may get off the hook of paying any state taxes and thus get a tax free ride."