All preconceived notions of casinos should be forgotten, according to Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort owner Tom Becnel.
"The opportunity needs to be evaluated on merits and not on old ideology," he
It should be evaluated in terms of jobs, real estate value, and income, according to Becnel
spoke to The Walton Sun
following a town hall meeting of more than 500 Sandestin homeowners.
The topic was a potential gaming and entertainment establishment in Sandestin, the development of which hinges on a gaming enabling bill in the Florida Legislature.
"If the bill becomes available, it would be beneficial," he
"It would be a year-round attraction."
Acting as a "tourism growth vehicle," a gaming and entertainment facility, according to Becnel
, could bring 300,000 to 400,000 additional visitors to the area, which, especially during the off-season, would be a boon to local businesses that would "see the business of the summer duplicated."
"It would generate a great deal of action and add to the seasonality," he
Such a facility would also bring more than 1,600 high-paying, year-round jobs, to local people, said Becnel
The flashing neon lights of Vegas, Biloxi, and Atlantic and gambling-induced crime should not be a cause for concern, said Becnel
"Don't let prejudices color your opinion," he
"It would be a high-end, well-regulated, high-security, dress-coded facility," said Becnel
"Where is crime going to find a place to stage itself?"
"Gaming bringing crime is an old argument," he
"Set standards and you don't worry about that crowd."
The gaming and entertainment establishment would bring "a clientele compatible with the existing clientele," said Becnel
"It would fit with the community."
, who has already met with consultants, said, "It would be a full casino, but on a restricted basis.
There would be limited numbers of table games, gaming devices and square footage."
was clear to make the distinction, too, between gambling and gaming.
"Gambling is a vice, gaming is entertainment," said Becnel
"The gambler will find an opportunity to gamble."
likened a visit to a gaming center to an afternoon at the movies, at a bowling alley, or at a restaurant - but just an alternate form of entertainment.
"The gaming portion would provide fuel to bring entertainment," he
declined to give a homeowner consensus of the meeting, as the feedback from 20 was "not representative of the entire community."
did, however, say, "It was a good exchange, and it certainly gave them the opportunity to discuss it."
As for moving forward, the most important part is to monitor the Legislature, according to Becnel
And if the bill is passed, the Sandestin homeowners' opinion will be polled, and where they stand will have a significant effect on how the development proceeds.
, "Be prepared to react by being informed."
"(Sandestin owner Tom) Becnel said he found out in December that a bill could be passed allowing five licenses for casinos; three in South Florida and two in the Panhandle.
proposed putting in a smaller Class B casino that would look like a hotel next to the existing Marriott.
The building would take away four holes from his
golf courses, but he
had planned to do that any way.
said the casino would have a doorman and no one would be allowed inside wearing flipflops or other beach attire.
said it would be high-class.
said studies show it would bring no increase in crime or prostitution.
said if the people say they don't want it, he
won't build it.
During the question and answer session, it was a bitching session with 99 percent of those speaking saying they do not want it.
Owners Association will have an advisory board meeting and bring back to Becnel
what the people in each neighborhood think."
Lauren Newell, a Sandestin
resident who wrote a statement that appears below, said "I felt like Mr. Becnel
really didn't hear what the Sandestin residents had to say...