On April 5, 2011, the Florida Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee approved a bill allowing up to five “destination resort” casinos situated around the Sunshine state. No action had been taken when the state legislature adjourned May 6, but the ramifications would be far-reaching should the casinos eventually be approved.

Proponents claim the casinos would help immensely in rejuvenating Florida’s tourism industry and add 100,000 much-needed jobs. Existing gambling facilities seek to protect their interests.

Florida currently authorizes three kinds of gambling. First, casino boats proffer slots and sundry table games like blackjack, roulette, poker, and bingo. Second, the Seminole Tribe runs seven casinos and the Miccoskuee Tribe operates one. The Seminole facilities are licensed for both federally-defined Class II gaming (e.g., bingo and lotto) and Class III gaming (e.g., card games, slot machines, and keno), whereas the Miccoskuee casino has a license for Class III gaming only.

Finally, pari-mutuel wagering includes Thoroughbred and dog racing and jai-alai. Most pari-mutuel facilities—including Calder Casino & Race Course and Gulfstream Park–have slot machines and poker. Tampa Bay Downs offers poker in addition to wagering on live racing and simulcasts.

Were Florida to open the door to a full-blown casino strip—ideally on the Atlantic Ocean in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area—the repercussions would most certainly be distressing to Las Vegas. With the cost of flying increasingly escalating because of fuel charges, automobile driving has become relatively attractive for long trips, especially for two or more travelers, even at rising gasoline prices.

A casino strip modeled after Las Vegas and located in the warm climate of south Florida would be a huge draw for snowbirds in the Northeast and Midwest. The vast majority of the residents of the densely populated areas of the Eastern and Midwestern United States can drive to Florida in 20-24 hours and people in metro areas like Atlanta and Charlotte are much closer still. Even St. Louis, the “Gateway to the West,” is considerably nearer to Miami than to Las Vegas.

Could Thoroughbred racetracks survive this competitive offensive? The view here is that they probably could because they already have diversified into limited casino gaming and have accrued expertise and a customer base.

An even more intriguing potential development may realistically emerge some 228 miles south of Miami in Havana, Cuba. Both casinos and racetracks had a prominent place in Cuba in the days before the repressive Castro regime seized power and may again be part of a new Cuban economy founded on tourism. After the demise of the 84-year-old dictator, Cuba will strive to shed its self-inflicted poverty, largely by capitalizing on in its tourism resources and escaping the half-century embargo imposed by the United States.

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business

Originally published in the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.

Click here to read a CNBC article on a Malaysian corporate gambling giant looking to Miami for expansion.