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Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011 6 years ago

City of Sarasota will not take gamble on casinos

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

The Sarasota City Commission is concerned that the Legislature might open up casino gaming to non-Indian-tribe Florida properties in the future. It plans to make it virtually impossible for a developer to submit any type of plan that involves building a casino within city limits.

At its Monday, Oct. 3, regular meeting, city staff made a presentation at the commission’s request that outlined the possibility that the Legislature might pass a bill this spring during its annual Tallahassee session that would allow Las Vegas-style casino gaming in other parts of Florida.

Currently, casino gaming is allowed only on Indian-tribe properties in the state.

Although the Legislature will most likely review a bill that would allow such facilities only in Miami-Dade County (where three casino gaming facilities are proposed), all five commissioners want to be prepared in case the allowance spreads to other areas of the state.

Noting that the site of the longtime Miami Herald building was purchased by a developer who intends to build a casino on the waterfront, Commissioner Shannon Snyder said there are too many similarities between the Herald building in Miami and the site of the former Sarasota Quay on Sarasota Bay.

“I find it completely inappropriate to put in a gaming facility anywhere in the downtown core or on our bayfront,” Snyder said. “I understand the state is trying to capture lost revenue, but I just hope they leave us with somewhat local control when the changes come along.”

City Attorney Bob Fournier, however, warned the city could not ban casinos altogether.

“We could be required to find a lawful location for casino gambling,” said Fournier, who urged the commission to just keep an eye on the Legislature but take no action at this point.

But the commission wanted no part of that suggestion.

Snyder, along with Vice Mayor Terry Turner, proposed the commission direct city staff to move forward with zoning code and Comprehensive Plan amendments that would make it difficult for casino gaming companies to propose such businesses in the city of Sarasota.

Amendments to its code and comp plan would further bolster the city’s chances of never having to review such an application.

For example, the city code could allow for such a facility only in a specific zoning district. A developer’s chance of being able to build a casino in Sarasota would be unlikely if the city chose a district that couldn’t accommodate such an operation.

“I just don’t think casino gaming is consistent with our family entertainment brand,” Turner said. “Waiting to see what the Legislature does is too late.”

Mayor Suzanne Atwell agreed.

“We are making a pre-emptive strike here,” Atwell said.

The commission directed city staff to begin making code and comp plan changes; that process will take at least six months. Any changes will have to be reviewed by the state before they can go into effect.

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