By DOTTY NIST
Due to a lack of support by Sandestin homeowners, Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort owner Tom Becnel is no longer moving forward with conceptual plans for a casino at the resort.
Two bills now in the Florida legislature propose to expand “limited gambling,” including slot machines, to “destination resorts” in the state.
The legislation would remove the Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering from the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, would set up a state Department of Gaming Control, and would create a State Gaming Commission to head up that department. The State Gaming Commission would be empowered to authorize limited gambling at up to three destination resorts.
A destination resort is, according to the bill’s definition, “a mixed-use development consisting of a combination of various tourism amenities and facilities, including, but not limited to, hotels, villas, restaurants, limited gambling facilities, convention facilities, attractions, entertainment facilities, service centers, and shopping centers.”
“Limited gambling,” as defined in the bill, would include not only slot machines but other games such as roulette and craps. The State Gaming Commission would also have the authority to allow any other game of chance or wagering at its discretion at the destination resorts for which it would license limited gambling. If approved, the bill would take effect on July 1.
Rather than the large destination resorts that would be made possible with the bills as currently written, Becnel has stated that he would envision a small, upscale resort gaming and entertainment facility at Sandestin.
In a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, the resort owner said he thought it possible that the proposed legislation would be revised to provide for a number of “smaller restricted gaming licenses.”
Becnel had pledged that he would not move forward on his concept without “a high degree of community support.” On Jan. 10, he addressed Sandestin homeowners on the topic at an informational owners-only town hall meeting.
“We presented preliminary ideas and information to Sandestin owners, and respect their response,” Becnel said.
Homeowners were encouraged to contact their association president or manager with their opinion on the possibility of the gambling/entertainment facility. The Sandestin Owners Association (SOA) Advisory Board, composed of neighborhood presidents, then met on Jan. 17 to conduct an official opinion poll on the possibility of the facility. Each vote cast represented the number of units in the advisory board member’s neighborhood.
Sandestin Resort spokesperson Laurie Hobbs reported: “The ballots cast resulted in 21 percent voting in favor of, and 79 percent opposed to, the potential project.” Hobbs noted that there were abstentions, with many residents saying that they wanted or needed more information in order to make a decision.
“We appreciate the many residents and leaders who participated in the process,” Hobbs said. “We will watch the legislative process, like others in the state. But without a change in community support we will not move forward,” she concluded.