Florida Shaping Up To Be Casino Battleground For Sheldon Adelson, Disney

Sheldon Adelson has a net worth of $28.5 billion, and he is using some of those resources to fight very expensive battles to get things done that he thinks are good for business.

The owner of Las Vegas Sands Corp., the largest casino company in the world based on revenue, is not only trying to slow the spread of online gambling in the United States, but is also tangled up in a struggle with Disney over massive casino resorts in the state of Florida.

Sands wants to build in South Florida, and it is willing to spend a ton. According to Bloomberg, Adelson and fellow casino industry titan Genting are sending 100 lobbyists to try to persuade lawmakers to authorize Las Vegas-style commercial gambling in the Sunshine State.

More than $3.4 million in campaign contributions have made their way to Florida lawmakers since 2012 via gambling interests. Disney’s sum is $1.7 million. Donations are expected to increase big time during the next election cycle, Bloomberg reported.

Disney, which already has an immense presence in the state, of course, operates theme parks and resorts, which have some overlap with what casino developers have in mind. While the gambling component sets Sands and Genting apart, parties on both sides of the argument want to lure tourists to their properties and see them spend in whatever capacity that may be.

According to Bloomberg, the state found that commercial casino resorts could generate $1.5 billion in spending annually in Florida. The state’s tourism industry is $71.8 billion.

Right now, Florida has tribal casinos (which are not considered commercial), a handful of them, in addition to 31 pari-mutuel facilities. The tribal casinos in the state have the forms of casino gambling you’d find in a Las Vegas casino, minus the craps and roulette.

What Sands and Genting could build would be very distinct from what is currently available for residents and visitors of Florida. Some call the plans “integrated resorts.”

Going back to the overlap. Not only do the casinos developers and Disney offer hotel accommodations and dining, but they all cater to conventions. Meeting space is a big draw, and new casinos could take business away from Disney in this area.

In an effort to protect its own self-interests, the Disney camp has claimed that casinos would hurt the “family-friendly image” of the state. “The massive expansion of gambling that would come from legalizing mega-casinos would be a bad bet for Florida’s taxpayers, tourism brand and existing businesses,” a Disney spokeswoman said in a statement.

Regardless of the arguments, history seems to be on the side of Disney. Commercial casino interests have been trying since the 1970s to get approval to build, but it hasn’t panned out. However, that hasn’t stopped Genting from recently purchasing hundreds of millions worth of real-estate for a possible casino resort in Miami. It really wants to get a license.

Legislators in Florida could rule on other gambling expansion issues this year, and leave the “mega-casino” issue for a non-election year. It’s really controversial.

The possibility has emerged that the casinos could be subject to a statewide referendum.


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