9 Investigates Gov. Rick Scott and the casino gambling issue



TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Just 13 days after Florida voters elected Rick Scott as the 45th governor of the state of Florida, the venture capitalist turned politician was in Las Vegas meeting with one of the largest Republican donors, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. Scott, who at the time was governor-elect, returned from the meeting and according to internal emails obtained by Eyewitness News instructed staff to begin work on destination casino legislation.

Nick Iarossi, a Tallahassee lobbyist whose clients include Adelson's Las Vegas Sands wrote in a Nov. 15, 2010 email to Enu Mainigi, the leader of Rick Scott's transition team, "Meeting with Gov. Scott went well today in Vegas with Adelson. Thanks for your help. After the meeting Gov. Scott asked me to call you about our destination casino resort legislative proposal to discuss job creation, economic impact, polling etc."

The internal emails were written just four months after the creating of Scott's political action committee "Let's Get to Work" was formed with the express purpose of supporting Rick Scott and no other candidates. Last year "Let's Get to Work" took in $825,000 in campaign contributions from casino and resort interests including $250,000 from Adelson, two $50,000 payments from Donald Trump, $10,000 from Boyd Gaming, and $50,000 from dog track owners The Racing Corporation of West Virginia.

The meetings and money show a relationship with organized gambling and destination casinos that has not been reflected in Scott's statements since taking office.

Just two months after his 2010 meeting with Adelson in Las Vegas, Scott said in a press conference, "I haven't taken any position other than the position I've already said. I do not want our budget to be tied to gaming."

The governor would repeat this position in subsequent interviews, telling Eyewitness News on Sept. 18 in Orlando that, "Look, the legislature is going to look at a lot of things and we'll see if they look at gaming."

"Are we living in a state that is pay-to-play?" said Deirdre Macnab of the League of Women Voters. "Rick Scott, as our governor, having taken these checks, is really going to have to bend over backwards to justify to the public any decision that is ultimately made on this subject."

While the League of Women Voters does not have a position on organized gambling or destination casinos, the group said the money and influence that has been pressed on Scott should compel him to at least take a public position on casinos.

"This is a waterfall of special interest money, and basically what it does, and citizens aren't dumb, they know it, it is completely drowning out the voice and interest of citizens" says Macnab.

In May of 2011, Scott vetoed $400,000 for a comprehensive gambling study saying in his veto, "Such a study at this time is an expense Florida taxpayers should not incur".

Two years after the governor's veto, the Florida Legislature approved funding for a two-part gambling study. Part two of the study will be released on Oct. 1. However, part one of the study was released earlier this year.

The study conducted by New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming Group found "Orlando competes nationally and globally in various segments, and Las Vegas – a destination centered on gaming – is clearly a competitor."

The study went on to find that "Orlando's strength in attracting business travelers is growing without gaming, and that absence is to some degree fueling that growth. Orlando has carved out a significant, profitable niche in that national market, and gaming would clearly be antithetical to that image and its ability to dominate that important segment."

The Florida Legislature is expected to draw from this two-part study in 2014 when it meets again.

READ:   The Florida Senate and House of Representatives Two-Part Gaming Study