Gambling Interests Get Involved in State Senate Race
With a special legislative session likely looming on Gov. Charlie Crist’s proposed compact with the Seminole Tribe, the pari-mutuel industry’s support for former House Speaker John Thrasher of Orange Park once looked like an easy bet in the race to succeed late Sen. Jim King.
But that was before polls emerged showing Ponte Vedra Beach businessman Dan Quiggle a possible winner in the Sept. 15 Republican primary.
“It looks like it’s going to come down to Quiggle and Thrasher,” said Michael Munz, spokesman for Jacksonville Greyhound Racing, whose principals and associated companies have steered at least $3,500 to Thrasher’s campaign, state records show.
“But we support Thrasher because he shares our interests in education, business and, of course, our industry. With (Quiggle) we think we know what you’ll get.”
A Quiggle spokesman, Adam Guillette, cast the candidate as a likely vote against Crist’s deal with the Seminoles – which the state’s influential pari-mutuel industry also denounces.
But Quiggle also wouldn’t do anything to help the horse- and dog-tracks and jai-alair frontons which want expanded cardroom hours, slot machines and sharp tax cuts to emerge from the special session considered likely this fall.
“The focus shouldn’t be on grabbing more revenue, it should be on how Florida can cut spending,” Guillette said. “We shouldn’t be making government bigger.”
No pari-mutuel money has gone Quiggle’s way, or to rival Republican Stan Jordan, a former House member. Jacksonville City Councilman Art Graham has collected at least $500 from the industry, records show.
The pari-mutuel money represents a small share of the $400,000 Thrasher has raised through the end of August. Quiggle has raised $155,000, finance records show.
A Thrasher spokeswoman, Sarah Bascom, said it was wrong to portray the candidate as pro-gambling. Thrasher is still reviewing the Seminole deal and would oppose any attempt to expand pari-mutuel gaming to new sites, she said.
Along with gambling, Crist and legislative leaders are also considering adding offshore oil-drilling to the special session agenda. But there appears little separating Thrasher and Quiggle on the move to give the governor and Cabinet authority to lift the state’s ban on oil exploration in Florida waters.
Thrasher’s old lobbying firm, Southern Strategies, represents Florida Energy Associates, the oil-industry backed group that is spearheading the drilling effort – which cleared the House earlier this year but stalled in the Senate.
And Quiggle supports drilling.
On the web site of Americans for Prosperity, a group he chaired, Quiggle said, “If we drill now prices will lower instantly…Florida is on the front lines of this important issue and we need to act now.”