Floridians are divided on a GOP-sponsored bill that would expand gambling to allow Las Vegas-style casinos or destination resorts in South Florida, but most want the issue decided in a statewide referendum.

The bill filed by state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, passed a first vote (.pdf) in the state Senate earlier this month.

The Miami Herald reported Sunday:

A staggering 81 percent of likely Florida voters surveyed last week said they believe that any proposed changes to state gambling laws should be decided in a statewide referendum. Only 8 percent were against it.

Voters were about evenly split over the question of whether the state should expand gambling to permit Las Vegas-style casinos. Of those surveyed Jan. 24-26, 44 percent opposed new gambling and 42 percent said they support it.

The Herald adds that “among racial and ethnic groups, Hispanic voters support casinos, 57-34 percent, black voters are evenly divided, with 41-40 percent; white voters oppose it 47-39 percent,” and ”a majority of Florida’s likely voters — 58 percent — believe that permitting casino gambling will help increase tourism and bring more revenue to the state, while only 12 percent believe it will hurt tourism and reduce revenue. Another 23 percent of voters believe casinos will have no effect.”

Barry Johnson, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, said on the radio show Lets Talk About It! Thursday that there are already casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward, and “what everybody is concerned about is that we have to ensure that this is a process that is done the right way, but we think there is economic development value, there is a jobs value, and another element to provide us with a continuing stream of international travelers.”

Norman Braman, a South Florida billionaire businessman opposed to the casinos bill, said on the radio show, “I’m opposed to bringing it here because I think it is a direct danger and assault on the quality of life of this community. It doesn’t bring anything with it except difficulties,” pointing to the negative effect casinos had on unemployment and crime in Atlantic City, N.J.

Oliver Gilbert III, the councilman of Miami Gardens and a member of the Miami-Dade Black Caucus, said on Lets Talk About It! that casinos are “an opportunity there for us to investigate” and “actually look and see how it brings economic development, jobs and renewed commerce.”

Dr. Gregory Bush, a professor at the University of Miami who is opposed to destination casinos, said on the radio show it “would be a great tragedy to this community because it wouldn’t stop with one or two destination casinos.”

Bush added that casinos “are almost an easy out for a lot of politicians,” and that leaders have not spent the time “addressing the issue and creating new kinds of opportunities.” He added that “there will be some jobs, but there is real debate about the amount of money people in the casino industry make, and the fact that some of the construction jobs that will be here briefly, a lot of the people could well be coming in from other locations, and I think the issue of jobs is clearly the major selling point.”

The Bogdanoff/Fresen bill has the support of the South Florida Tea Party, Associated Industries of Florida, Associated Builders and Contractors, the Florida Concrete Products Association, the Florida United Business Association, the Florida Transportation Association, the Latin Builders Association, Florida Carpenters Regional Council, the Florida Retired Workers Association and UNITE HERE Local 355.

Not all Florida business groups are on board: No Casinos, the anti-gambling coalition, includes the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Attractions Association, the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association.

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