Florida Gulf Coast Town Passes Comprehensive Gambling Ban

Destin Florida Casino Gambling Ban

Destin attracts vacationers with non-gaming hotels like the Emerald Grande At Harborwalk Village, along with countless beachfront condo rentals.

North Florida beach communities could become the next battleground between gaming developers and residents in Florida’s casino wars. The City of Destin, a Gulf Coast beach city near Pensacola which calls itself “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village”, passed an ordinance to keep most forms of gambling out of the community.

If the Destin City Council has its way, only bingo games and lottery sales will be legal inside the city limits. The ban on gambling would exclude casino developers from building a resort overlooking the Gulf of Mexico — at least on the Destin beachfront.

Mayor Gary Jarvis’s platform on the issue is simple. When asked for a comment, Mayor Jarvis said, No gambling in Destin.”

Destin’s land development code already had banned any form of casino hotels or other forms of gambling development in the city, but the city council decided the ban on gambling was not tight enough. The new ordinance bans “any form of gambling” outside lotto tickets and bingo halls.

Despite what would appear to be an airtight policy against gambling, the Destin law could be challenged in the coming years. If what has happened elsewhere in Florida — where 8 counties approved slot machine gambling — then Destin’s stance might augur a court battle.

Destin Florida Gambling Ordinance

Destin’s city council wants to avoid a situation in which Okaloosa County approves gambling in some form, then gaming operators open up some form of betting enterprise in the city. In the past, gambling-related cyber-cafes have been a problem in Florida. While cyber-cafes have been shut down in other parts of Florida, they remain a contentious issue.

So have slots parlors, which 8 Florida counties have approved over the past few years. One might think the Florida Panhandle — more a part of the deep south than South Florida or the central corridor — is safe from gaming developers. That is not the case, as the 8 counties in question come from all regions of Florida.

Thus, the city council of Destin passed its ordinance, stating, “Gambling exploits the poor and disadvantaged, the increased availability of gambling leads to gambling addiction and gambling attracts fraud and corruption.”

2018 Florida Statewide Referendum

The Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Disney Company combined to fund a SuperPAC backing a Florida constitutional amendment which would take power out of the hands of legislators to legalize casino gambling in the state. If the 2018 ballot initiative is successful, any new form of legalized gambling would require a statewide referendum instead of the Florida state legislature’s approval.

The referendum issue is Amendment 3, also known as “Voter Approval of Casino Gambling Initiative“. It appears on the November 6 midterm election ballot throughout the state.

The Seminoles and Disney combined to pay $10 million to back a petition drive and public awareness campaign for the November 2018 referendum. To pass, Floridians would have to vote at a 60% rate to approve the measure.

Why Disney Supports Amendment 3

The Seminole Tribe backed a lawsuit to keep Florida counties from approving casino gambling in their jurisdictions, mainly to build slots parlors. To shut down what they consider illegal impositions against their gaming monopoly, they tribe backed the initiative. Ultimately, paying $5 million or more to protect their gaming monopoly and shut down expensive lawsuits is seen as a good investment by the tribe, which owns 7 casinos throughout the state.

Disney backs an end to casino expansion because it wants to keep Florida’s tourism a family-friendly environment. Disneyworld is a huge tourist draw to the state, while Orlando in general has a large allure to families inside and outside the United States. Besides Disneyworld, the area contains Universal Orlando Resort, Seaworld Orlando, and 150 golf courses. Disney sees casino gambling as a distraction that would change the way Florida is perceived around America and around the globe.

The two groups seldom agree on an issue, but the possible expansion of gambling has alarmed Disney and the Seminoles in the past few years. The Seminoles have hard-won gaming concessions from Florida, but the legislature has played hardball in the latest set of gaming compact negotiations and the tribe fears it could turn against the Seminoles at any time.

Destin’s Move against Gambling

In many ways, Destin’s thinking is similar to the Disney Company’s mindset. Destin, Panama Beach, Pensacola Beach, Mexico Beach, Grayton Beach, Perdido Key State Park, and St. George Isle are just some of the beach areas which attracts visitors from throughout the American south. Families pile up in SUVs, rent beach condos for a week, and enjoy a family-friendly atmosphere on the beaches of the Florida Panhandle.

In the mind of Destin’s city council, gambling enclaves would change the region’s character and its selling point to those families. Thus a total ban on gambling keeps the city free of supposed corruption, but also maintains the area’s sterling reputation as a family vacation destination point.