TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida is moving ahead with a critical study that could set the stage for the future expansion of gambling in the state, including whether or not Miami could become a rival to Las Vegas.
The two leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature late last week signed a nearly $400,000 contract to have New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming Group conduct a comprehensive study of gambling.
The company will be responsible with creating two detailed reports that closely examines the state's mix of gambling - which also includes a state-sanctioned lottery and casinos run by the Seminole Tribe of Florida - and the impact of changing state law. The reports are meant to examine both the financial and social effects.
The review comes on the heels of Florida lawmakers approving a sweeping ban on storefront operations known as Internet cafes. Gov. Rick Scott last week signed the ban into law.
"I look forward to reviewing their report as we take a holistic view of the role gaming plays in Florida's economy," said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel in a statement.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said that while gambling generates significant "economic activity" legislators have made changes to the state's gambling laws in a "piecemeal fashion" over the years.
"This study will help House and Senate committees comprehensively examine gaming issues," Gaetz said in a statement.
Florida has restrictions on gambling and voters in the past have rejected constitutional amendment to bring casinos into the state. But dog tracks and horse tracks in South Florida have been allowed to install slot machines.
Back in 2010 the state approved a deal with the Seminoles that called for the tribe to pay the state about $1.2 billion over a five year period. That deal gave the Seminoles exclusive rights to have blackjack and other table games at three Broward County casinos and others in Immokalee and Tampa.
A clause in the $388,845 contract states that Spectrum cannot lobby or work for anyone lobbying the Legislature until after the 2014 session — when gambling legislation could be under consideration.
Spectrum already has ties to Florida as an organizer of the Florida Gaming Congress, which was held this past February at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood. That event featured top executives from Florida-based pari-mutuels, Vegas based companies and even former Senate President Mike Haridopolos.
The company has previously done work for the Seminole Hard Rock as well as Genting, the Malaysian company that purchased land in downtown Miami and initially proposed building a casino on the site.
Spectrum will not do the study by itself. The company will also rely on professors in Harvard and the University of Florida to help out.
"Spectrum is honored by this selection, as we realize the importance of this study to Florida's policymakers in so many ways, from the future of its tourism industry to the quality of life for its citizens," Michael Pollock, Spectrum Gaming Group's Managing Director said in a statement.
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