Mixing the sounds of slot machines, blackjack and poker with Miami Beach sunshine and bikinis has long been a dream for pro-casino forces in Florida.
But as sure as the casinos always win, Florida voters and lawmakers have always left the "Las Vegas on a beach" concept for the Nevada desert.
"Between Vegas and Florida I always say we both have a lot of sand, we just have the water," said state Sen. Ellen Bogdanoff.
The Republican from Broward County is the Senate sponsor of a bill that would open up Florida to full casino competition, bringing three destination casino-resorts to the Miami and Fort Lauderdale market.
Currently, only the Miccosukee and Seminole Indian tribes are allowed to operate casinos in Florida. But thanks to a lethargic economy, 10 percent unemployment and a state budget deficit that stands at $3 billion, 2012 could be the casinos' best bet to bring all the legalized gambling of Atlantic City and Las Vegas to Florida's tropical coastline.
Recently, 4,000 people recently lined up for 800 casino jobs at a new Seminole casino opening in Coconut Creek.
As one woman who waited in the long line put it, "I’ve been out of work for more than a year. The economy is just that bad."
The prospect of opening up Florida gaming to non-Indian, resort-casinos promises economic salvation. The first thing Malaysian-based Resorts World mentions are jobs.
"Destination resorts -- what they can bring to Florida is one aspect of bringing Florida out of what has been a very stagnant economy not only for the construction industry but all industries quite frankly," said Jessica Hoppe, general counsel and senior vice president of Resorts World Americas.
Hoppe's company has been wooing voters with dreamy, sculpted architectural drawings of what would become the world's largest casino, towering right in downtown Miami on the shores of Biscayne Bay. Estimated cost: $4 billion up front.
"If you think of one destination resort, 19,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs, as well as approximately 5,000-10,000 construction jobs, that's just for each project. So if you had three destination resorts, we approximate it to be about 100,000 jobs.”
The concept of casinos as economic engines to rescue states dealing with high unemployment and much-needed state revenues is not just a Florida idea. In 2010, 39 states considered gaming expansion.
As lawmakers around the country craft what they'll debate and vote on in their respective state houses next year, 12 states will see bills to expand gambling in one way or another. In Massachusetts and Illinois, gambling supporters want to bring casino destination resorts.
Come Jan. 10 in Tallahassee, one bet that is guaranteed is that after redistricting, the No. 1 legislative debate of the 2012 session will be all about gambling, whether it's an economic cure-all or a moral hurricane to ruin Florida's well-established tourism economy.
In Florida, supporters include the Florida United Business Association, Latin Builders Association, the Associated Industries of Florida and big-time Vegas players Wynn Resorts and the Sands Corporation.
Opponents include Disney, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, religious leaders and former state Senator and attorney general candidate Dan Gelber, a lifelong Democrat.
"Look every time there's a down economy these casino barons show up promising to give you everything -- jobs and money. And the truth of the matter is they sell pipe dreams for a living and they're trying to do it to our community."