Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Florida's Gambling Genie

This from the editorial section of the Miami Herald

With the Florida Lottery among the biggest in the nation, casino-like games at pari-mutuels and jai alai throughout the Sunshine State, casinos run by the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes and those gambling cruises to nowhere and back, the thought that a destination casino resort will destroy Florida’s family tourism image seems almost quaint.

Florida already is a “major gambling state, with a wide array of options.” So declares a new gambling study conducted for the state.

That’s why a comprehensive approach is long overdue to focus on what type of gambling makes sense for Florida and to put an end (or at least limit) the games that continue to prey on the elderly and working poor.

“Intentionally or not, the policies established by lawmakers — or the lack thereof — play a critical role in the evolution and expansion of gaming,” notes a draft report by Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey company hired by the state to study current gaming laws and look at the long-term effects of gambling in Florida. “The industry rarely shrinks, and quite often, expands . . . ”

This past legislative session lawmakers jumped on outlawing Internet cafes and gambling arcades, the so-called video maquinitas often played by retirees at strip shopping malls for a chance at a “gift card.” The swift action came after former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned after her connections to Allied Veterans of the World, a Florida nonprofit that operated a chain of Internet sweepstakes cafes that law enforcement deemed a gambling racket, were disclosed.

No doubt that Florida’s “family tourism” reputation, particularly generated by Disney World and other amusement parks in the Orlando area, bring in billions of dollars to the state. But less than an hour’s drive away from the Magic Kingdom stands the Seminole Hard Rock casino off Interstate 4 in the Tampa area. It, too, rakes in lots of bucks but little of that money goes to the state because Indian tribes are independent of state policy. The Seminoles are paying Florida as part of that tribe’s gambling compact, which allowed blackjack and other types of table games that pari-mutuels are not allowed to offer. But the compact ends soon.

Besides, even with the Indian casinos having the upper hand, pari-mutuels and jai alai frontons have been moving aggressively to exploit loopholes in state law to offer more games, and state regulators rarely say No. Just last year, regulators allowed slot machine operators in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to run electronic games that mimic live roulette and craps.

Clearly, Florida needs a long range plan to wrestle control over the piecemeal mess that has been created. A destination resort in downtown Miami (at the site of the former Herald building now owned by casino resorts giant Genting) may not be the solution, but it’s still too early to rule it out. Spectrum’s second report, due in October, will dive into the economic impact of gambling on communities, and so far the jobs numbers aren’t very notable.

“Based on our research and experience in Florida and elsewhere, gaming will evolve in Florida whether or not the Florida Legislature develops a plan and puts that plan into action,’’ Spectrum’s draft report concludes. “Absent any plan, however, that evolution would be haphazard and would be far less likely to address or advance any public-policy goals.”

The Legislature can’t keep putting off the inevitable. The gambling genie left the bottle long ago.

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Editorial Reviews of All or Nothing

New York Times--". . . a cartographer of autodegradation . . . Like Dostoyevsky, Allen colorfully evokes the gambling milieu — the chained (mis)fortunes of the players, their vanities and grotesqueries, their quasi-philosophical ruminations on chance. Like Burroughs, he is a dispassionate chronicler of the addict’s daily ritual, neither glorifying nor vilifying the matter at hand."

Florida Book Review--". . . Allen examines the flaming abyss compulsive gambling burns in its victims’ guts, self-esteem and bank accounts, the desperate, myopic immediacy it incites, the self-destructive need it feeds on, the families and relationships it destroys. For with gamblers, it really is all or nothing. Usually nothing. Take it from a reviewer who’s been there. Allen is right on the money here."

Foreword Magazine--"Not shame, not assault, not even murder is enough reason to stop. Allen’s second novel, All or Nothing, is funny, relentless, haunting, and highly readable. P’s inner dialogues illuminate the grubby tragedy of addiction, and his actions speak for the train wreck that is gambling."

Library Journal--"Told without preaching or moralizing, the facts of P's life express volumes on the destructive power of gambling. This is strongly recommended and deserves a wide audience; an excellent choice for book discussion groups."—Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH

LEXIS-NEXIS--"By day, P drives a school bus in Miami. But his vocation? He's a gambler who craves every opportunity to steal a few hours to play the numbers, the lottery, at the Indian casinos. Allen has a narrative voice as compelling as feeding the slots is to P." Betsy Willeford is a Miami-based freelance book reviewer. November 4, 2007

Publisher’s Weekly--"Allen’s dark and insightful novel depicts narrator P’s sobering descent into his gambling addiction . . . The well-written novel takes the reader on a chaotic ride as P chases, finds and loses fast, easy money. Allen (Churchboys and Other Sinners) reveals how addiction annihilates its victims and shows that winning isn’t always so different from losing."

Kirkus Review--"We gamble to gamble. We play to play. We don't play to win." Right there, P, desperado narrator of this crash-'n'-burn novella, sums up the madness. A black man in Miami, P has graduated from youthful nonchalance (a '79 Buick Electra 225) to married-with-a-kid pseudo-stability, driving a school bus in the shadow of the Biltmore. He lives large enough to afford two wide-screen TVs, but the wife wants more. Or so he rationalizes, as he hits the open-all-night Indian casinos, "controlling" his jones with a daily ATM maximum of $1,000. Low enough to rob the family piggy bank for slot-machine fodder, he sinks yet further, praying that his allergic 11-year-old eat forbidden strawberries—which will send him into a coma, from which he'll emerge with the winning formula for Cash 3 (the kid's supposedly psychic when he's sick). All street smarts and inside skinny, the book gives readers a contact high that zooms to full rush when P scores $160,000 on one lucky machine ("God is the God of Ping-ping," he exults, as the coins flood out). The loot's enough to make the small-timer turn pro, as he heads, flush, to Vegas to cash in. But in Sin City, karmic payback awaits. Swanky hookers, underworld "professors" deeply schooled in sure-fire systems to beat the house, manic trips to the CashMyCheck store for funds to fuel the ferocious need—Allen's brilliant at conveying the hothouse atmosphere of hell-bent gaming. Fun time in the Inferno.

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Bio


Preston L. Allen is the recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature and the Sonja H. Stone Prize in Fiction for his short story collection Churchboys and Other Sinners (Carolina Wren Press 2003). His works have appeared in numerous publications including The Seattle Review, The Crab Orchard Review, Asili, Drum Voices, and Gulfstream Magazine; and he has been anthologized in Here We Are: An Anthology of South Florida Writers, Brown Sugar: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction, Miami Noir, and the forthcoming Las Vegas Noir. His fourth novel, All Or Nothing, chronicles the life of a small-time gambler who finally hits it big. Preston Allen teaches English and Creative Writing in Miami, Florida.