The Sarasota City Commission won’t proceed with plans to target the Sarasota Kennel Club as the sole site for any future casino site — at least for the foreseeable future.
At its regular meeting April 16, the commission chose to heed the recommendation of its Planning Board, which decided March 14 not to recommend the city move forward with plans.
Last fall, commissioners were so concerned the Legislature may open up casino gaming to non-American Indian tribe Florida properties in the future, it directed staff in October to draft zoning text and Comprehensive Plan change amendments to keep any future site away from the bayfront and the downtown core.
Since then, bills drawn up that would have allowed for the issuance of three Las Vegas-style casino gaming licenses in South Florida did not pass. Those and other casino bills are expected to reappear next spring in the Legislature.
Although Commission Shannon Snyder noted three other Florida counties are approving zoning amendments for casinos in case they get approved, he made the motion to hold off until the Legislature approves casinos statewide.
“We’ve done the work,” Snyder said. “It’s not like we can’t pull it off the shelf when the state approves this.”
The work involves zoning-code text amendments and a Comprehensive Plan amendment that Director of Neighborhood and Development Services Secretary David Smith had prepared if commissioners approved the changes. The changes would designate any casino be placed at the kennel site near the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and away from the bayfront.
Smith felt it appropriate “to get ahead of the game and begin addressing casino regulations.”
But planning board members and commissioners would rather wait to see what the Legislature proposes in the future after they were told by city attorney Bob Fournier they can’t ban casino gaming in the city altogether.
“If it’s made lawfully permissible on a statewide basis, you have to allow it somewhere,” Fournier said.
Vice Mayor Terry Turner said given the uncertainty of what the Legislature may approve in the future, the city should delay its decision.
“We didn’t make a mistake moving this forward, and staff did good work,” Turner said. “But given the general uncertainty, I’m not ready to conclude this is in the best public interest at this time.”
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo agreed.
“It’s going to come back again next year,” he said. “When there’s an issue to deal with, we’ll deal with it.”