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Cannon: Give priority to closing gambling loopholes

In a wide-ranging interview with House Speaker Dean Cannon Tuesday, the Winter Park Republican told the Herald/Times he agrees with Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, that legislators should focus first on passing a bill to close the loopholes in the state's existing gambling laws before introducing destination resort casinos to Florida.

"I think Sen. Thrasher's on the right track,'' Cannon said. "It is difficult to look at what we have today and say it is orderly, thoughtful and predictable." He noted that in his seven years in Tallahassee, changes to the statutes that have expanded card rooms and the push continues to separate dog racing from poker rooms and slot machines.

Thrasher "makes a very, very good point that what we have now is in somewhat of a state of disarray and maybe worth looking at that before we add another whole layer to the mix.''

As for the resort casinos bill, Cannon said he continues to rate the odds "an uphill battle."

"I am still very skeptical that a policy package that could find a majority vote in the House will survive a majority in the Senate,'' Cannon said. He said he is equally skeptical that "a package that could pass a majority vote in the Senate could survive a majority vote in the House.''

He said that the bill sponsors, Rep. Erik Fresen and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, have been doing a good job "but my belief that it's a long shot hasn't changed."

Cannon also weighed in on other issues:                             
• He said it was “a good thing” for the process that there are no clear U.S. House candidates involved in redistricting (like Feeney, Thurman and Margolis in previous years), including himself. “None, none,” Cannon said when asked about his desire to run for Congress. “I learned never to say never. I said 20 years ago I’d never run for public office, but no. Not interested whatsoever."

• Cannon is almost Larry Cretul-esque in his anticipation for the final day of session. “It’s starting to be the first of the lasts. Last week was my first committee week. This will be my last opening day. And it’s very fun. I am pretty happy about it. It’s been an interesting, long seven years. I feel very blessed to have gotten to do it, but I’ll be glad to be done. It will be good to take a break.”

• Scott sent a clear budget message to Cannon and other lawmakers when he promised to not sign any spending plan unless it contains “more state dollars for education than we have this year.” Cannon says there will be no tax or fee increases in the budget, but wouldn’t say there will be more money for schools after lawmakers cut the K-12 budget by 8 percent last year. “We certainly, I think, don’t want to reduce spending in K-12. Too soon to tell whether we can increase it or not,” Cannon said.

• Scott put his controversial career at Columbia/HCA back in the spotlight after signaling his interest in cutting Medicaid spending for Florida hospitals. Cannon, who helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell Republican primary voters about the Medicare and Medicaid fraud at Scott’s hospital chain, said Scott’s history won’t hamper budget debate. “I think it’s great,” Cannon said about Scott’s experience. “He is familiar with how hospitals are operated. That doesn’t mean his opinion is the only opinion, but I would be inclined to give his significant weight because of that.”

• Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford’s decision to toss out the Legislature’s prison privatization plan was based on a misunderstanding of the budget process, Cannon said. “The fact that that might be a little murky or not quite understood by a circuit judge is not surprising,” Cannon said. “On the one hand, if you tend not to like the outcome of a contest it’s easy to criticize the process or claim there was some flaw in it. All of those bills and all of those policy choices were made with 100 percent compliance with the constitutional and statutory public notice, three readings, all of he things that are there. I just think that court got that case wrong.”

• Cannon’s choice for president, Rick Perry, has suffered a downward spiral in the polls, but the speaker is sticking by his pick: “It’s turbulent,” Cannon said about the race. “Right now it looks like it’s still an open field and there’s no clear front-runner.”

“Anybody’s got a shot, man,” Cannon said.

• Cannon’s pick for U.S. Senate, state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, is no longer in the race. But Cannon said he’s not likely to endorse Haridopolos’s pick, Connie Mack, or any of the other candidates at this point. “I’m probably out of the endorsement business,” Cannon said.

-- Mike Bender contributed to this report.





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Can't Take Anymore

Fortunately for the people of Florida, Dean Cannon's political future is as dead as the presidential aspirations of Rick Perry. The stain on Florida's legislative history that will be left by the terms of Cannon as Speaker and Haridopolus as Senate president will linger for a generation. It will take fire hoses and thousands of gallons of Chlorox to wash the slime they will leave behind off the Capital Complex. Their already named successors may be even worse. God help us!


While the State of Florida grapples with a $2 billion budget deficit, one of its top regulatory agencies is simultaneously expending untold taxpayer funds to escalate and exacerbate a costly legal battle to defend the expansion of gambling, to which Florida’s top-ranking state legislators have repeatedly voiced their increasing opposition during the past several weeks.

In defense of Gretna Racing, LLC--a private entity with an Alabama Indian Tribe as a majority owner together with Gulfstream Park lobbyist Marc Dunbar and former Gulfstream Park attorney David Romanik--the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation released dozens of pages of publicly-funded litigation designed to protect the very situation that the Florida Legislature is now vigorously debating how to curtail.

With the Cabinet members now having publicly declared their opposition to the expansion of gambling through destination resorts, the State of Florida’s attitude toward the unfettered proliferation of gambling has been greatly clarified.

But, to the chagrin of its sponsors, the intent of the would-be destination resort legislation’s proposed gaming commission had already been unexpectedly usurped by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s (DPPR’s) highly questionable and unilateral award of a racing license to Gretna Racing LLC. As expected, the dubious license was ultimately used for purpose of introducing “pari-mutuel barrel racing.” Constituting a brand new gambling product, the license was awarded without enabling legislation, proper regulatory hearings or public input. As expected, Gretna Racing officials immediately used their new license to secure a slot machine referendum in Gadsden County—a loophole-laden legal maneuver that quickly brought copycat requests from other small pari-mutuel permitholders.

So outraged were top legislative leaders at Gretna Racing’s actions that, in a Senate Committee on Regulated Industries workshop last week, some called for the need to solve the “Gretna Racing problem” before taking up the destination resort bills.

“As the people’s regulator, it is unconscionable that the DBPR is using the public dime to finance protracted litigation to protect its unilateral expansion of gambling, when the Legislature is making it quite clear that this is not the direction it wants for the State of Florida,” remarked Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) Executive Director Kent Stirling.

“What amazes me is that the State of Florida is actually financing failure by strangling off what could be thousands of jobs and exponentially greater wagering if Gretna Racing were to simply have adhered to legitimate Quarter Horse racing,” added FHBPA President Phil Combest, who also noted the startling disparity in opening day handle between Gretna Racing ($2,581) and Gulfstream Park ($4,837,605—constitutes a 22% increase). These numbers were generated literally within two days of one another. The comparison that the Gulfstream Park and Gretna Racing facilities were the same as one another was made on December 2 by Romanik in an interview with internationally known horse racing writer Ray Paulick.

Combest reminded that Florida regulations stipulate that pari-mutuel permitholders must demonstrate that they can protect the flow of revenue to the State. “So we’re killing the revenue we could have had with legitimate racing, killing jobs in the horse racing industry, hammering the gravestones with taxpayer-funded litigation and paying Florida legislators to contemplate the whole thing,” he said. “To me, that’s the real government waste.”

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