When it comes to expanding gaming in the state of Florida, the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce says itís a bad deal.
"We're opposed to it because of the social impacts," said Shane Moody, chamber president and CEO. "It would damage the brand that Destin has as a family friendly resort community."
Moody, along with other business and community leaders from around the state, took part in a Senate Gaming Committee Workshop Nov. 14 in Pensacola. Speakers were in attendance to talk about a variety of topics such as the economic impact of expanding gaming, gambling and crime, and the family, community and social impacts. Moody was the only person to testify from Destin.
The meeting essentially allowed committee members to garner input as they will soon consider possibilities of gaming in Florida, which can range from casino resorts to increased slot machines. An expiring pact with the Seminole Indian tribe must also be taken into consideration. While there are not specific projects on the books, communities in South Florida have shown a desire to offer slot machines and poker at dog tracks, as well as the construction of "resort casinos," such as the Seminole operated Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
The Destin chamber's board of directors passed a resolution opposing gambling back in 2011, and they still stand by that decision today.
In his remarks to the committee, Moody said "our brand is families, family activities, family fun, and family values," which is the backbone of the tourism industry and other area businesses, as well.
"We thrive on a small business economy," he said. "We thrive on one of the strongest education systems in the state... we thrive on community helping community, people helping people, and are able to achieve and improve a quality of life that is unparalleled."
"All of this would be negatively affected by the expansion of casino gambling in Florida," he added.
While expanding the gaming industry in Florida would create new jobs and add tax dollars to the state and community, the jobs created by casinos and such are not the high-skill, high-wage jobs the chamber is looking to bring to Destin.
Moody told the committee that high-stakes casino gambling is linked to higher social costs, which includes the cost of crime, the cost of additional law enforcement, and the cost of gambling addiction.
If casinos were to expand their reach into Destin, Moody said the impacts on small businesses would be tremendous.
"Local business owners, many of whom have had family businesses for many years, will be forced out of business, destroying their personal futures and ability to live in and maintain a quality of place that we enjoy," he said. "Our education system and schools would decline, and not to mention the devastation to our history of charter boat fishing..."
Statewide, Adam Giery from the Florida Chamber of Commerce told The Log that his organization first opposed the expansion of gaming 20 years ago.
"Expansion of gaming would be detrimental to the Florida brand," he said. "We don't see gambling as a key piece of economic development."
While the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce has taken on the expansion of gambling, representatives from the city of Destin haven't broached the subject, officially, since 1994 when a resolution opposing casino gambling was adopted by the city council.
The resolution noted a "negative impact on family oriented tourism, which is the backbone of the state's tourism industry."
Overall, Moody says that gambling doesn't have a home in Destin.
"It just doesn't fit," he said.