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House leadership expresses skepticism about promises over casino bills

Florida's current and incoming House leaders are no big fans of gambling and, while they are not willing to voice clear opposition to it (in the midst of a steady stream of campaign cash from the gambling industry going to GOP political campaigns), their voices against it are getting louder.

House Speaker Dean Cannon used his strongest language yet Wednesday at a pre-session briefing with reporters, sponsored by the Associated Press. "I am philosophically opposed to the expansion of gaming in our state,'' he said. He said he was "very skeptical" that destination resort casinos will reduce gaming in Florida. "I have yet to see a concrete plan to accomplish it. And it would be premature for me to weigh in aggressively on the bill especially when we haven’t seen it work through the committee process."

Cannon's successor, Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wilton Manors, he is also skeptical.

"It's not just about casino gambling, it's gambling itself," Weatherford said. "I'm not proud of the fact that we're the third or fourth largest gaming state in the country."

"I've always had concerns about the expansion of gaming, and I still have those concerns," Weatherford said. "I've kept an open mind about it. I'm allowing the stakeholders on both sides to get their arguments out" but "someone would really have to show some overwhelming evidence as to how it makes Florida a better place."

He said the explosion of strip-mall based Internet cafes "are a good example of gaming gone awry. It's a matter of, what are you injecting into the DNA of Florida? When you think about what makes up the state of Florida, when you think about the promise we're selling of what Florida is, does injecting destination casinos into the DNA of Florida make sense? I think that's the question we're all asking ourselves."
Weatherford played an important role late in the 2011 session in the House's refusal to accept a pro-gambling amendment that was championed in the Senate by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, that would have reduced taxes on coin-arcade amusement machines at a pari-mutuel track in Jacksonville.
Weatherford's father-in-law, former House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, is former chairman of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the casino proposal.

-- Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.