Out-of-state experience


Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 12:17 a.m.
The state's marketing arm has listed a trip on a gambling ship as one of the state's "Top Ten Unique Experiences".
A list of 10 best things to do in Florida could cover a lot of ground - ranging from a tour of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration launch site at Cape Canaveral to the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. So what makes the list of "Top Ten Unique Experiences in Florida," a new release put out by Visit Florida, the state's official tourism marketing arm?
A trip on a gambling ship comes in at No. 2.
Let's see: Gov. Jeb Bush opposes any extension of gambling in Florida. He's so against it that last year he vetoed a bill that would have allowed charitable and veterans' organizations to sell instant bingo games. To allow it, he said, would "send the wrong message . . . and undermines the state's reputation as one of the finest places to live, work and visit."
Members of the Legislature oppose gambling. While voters in Broward County have approved slot machines for pari-mutuel operations, legislators have been talking about placing an amendment on the ballot to overturn a recent constitutional amendment that allows the machines in two counties - Broward and MiamiDade - if local voters approve them for existing tracks and frontons.
One wonders what the folks at Visit Florida were thinking when they decided to list the Sterling Casino Lines among the state's top 10 unique experiences. The non-profit agency is funded in part by tax dollars, including revenues from a state tax on rental car contracts. Part of its budget also comes from dues charged to its 3,500 partners.
Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale) that the state has "a very successful recipe that makes us the No. 1 family-friendly destination in the universe." He added that promoting a gambling ship "does not reflect the reasons why people come to Florida."
Johnson also raised several other points on why Visit Florida shouldn't be promoting the gambling cruise: Those ships don't generate sales or other related tourist taxes for the state. They don't create many jobs for Floridians.
And in a final jab, Johnson noted that the cruise ship has to be outside state waters before gambling can begin. "Besides, I'm not sure why we would advertise for a tourism experience that's not really taking place in Florida," he told the newspaper. "I really question why Visit Florida is advertising this nationally and using their (promotion) dollars to do this."
The state doesn't exactly look like the defender of the public morals on this issue. It does, after all, promote and run a statewide lottery. But the lottery's profits don't go to the bottom line of a private company. They are used to fund scholarship programs that pay the entire college tuition for good students.
Vanessa Welter, director of communications for Visit Florida, said the promotion agency wants to "expose a variety of partners to media coverage throughout the year . . . on a random and fair basis."
With 3,500 partners, it would seem the agency could do better - particularly for a state that prides itself on family vacation offerings - than to promote gambling in a news release.
The Visit Florida Web site notes, "More than 8.5 million unique visitors annually are using www.visitflorida.com, Florida's official tourism Web site, to plan their Florida vacation. This site has become the No. 1 tool that people are using to learn all that Florida has to offer them as a vacation destination."
On Monday, the gambling ship was still listed in a news release as one of the "Top Ten Unique Experiences in Florida."
Might it be too bold to suggest that it be replaced by a unique experience that actually takes place within the boundaries of the state?

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