Despite what I think will likely be a myriad hoops and circles throughout the legislative process and significant, well-funded opposition from the Seminole Tribe, the matter of a proposed destination resort/casino has spurred considerable debate locally.
Recently I was invited to participate in a panel forum. As with virtually any issue, opinions abound and numerous media stories following the discussion have included bits and pieces of what I expressed that day. I have fielded a considerable amount of input from constituents and the debate seems to be robust, so as your sheriff I want to make my positions clear.
I think it noteworthy to inform you that I do not gamble. In fact, I don't even play the Lottery. During a recent FBI event at the Seminole Hard Rock a couple of hours from here, I never touched a card, rolled the dice or played a slot machine.
Despite my personal decision to abstain, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the experience offered by the resort which included spacious rooms, great food, top-notch entertainment and more. I liken it to the reality that people enjoy going on cruise ships but never refer to them as casino ships. The casino is merely a portion of the overall experience and like nearly everything in life it is an optional, personal choice.
Opponents cite crime increases as inevitable and yet the same can be said for any development of large scale. For example, there is little or no crime on vacant land until that land sports a large shopping mall, school or residential neighborhood.
Casinos are actually very safe places. While at the Hard Rock, my room card was scanned every time I approached the elevator as a means of confirming who belongs in the hotel. Meanwhile, anyone can walk through the front doors of a hospital and go straight into the elevator unchallenged. So which building is safer?
Lee County has had a gambling venue for 55 years and the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track in Bonita Springs has been a great community partner every step of the way. Proportionate to a much smaller county 55 years ago, the track was a major facility and perhaps generated debate similar to what we are hearing right now with the casino. Ultimately, however, the sky did not fall and the track now includes betting on simulcast horse racing and big poker with slot machines seemingly imminent.
Billboards line our major roadways promoting casinos and Floridians are bombarded daily with enticements to play Florida's Lottery for the "chance" to "win" millions of dollars. Other examples of sanctioned gambling in Florida abound and as I quipped at the panel discussion, I was surprised the check-in table was not selling 50/50 raffle tickets.
I would submit to you that Florida is already a gambling state and to suggest otherwise would be hypocritical. A single location wherein less than 10 percent of the entire proposal is a casino will not redefine our community or our crime rate, just like a casino onboard does not redefine a cruise ship.