– Gameness til the End
BY FRED GRIMM
Just 20 miles from downtown Miami, it might as well been situated on a distant Caribbean island. The betting went on for three decades out there in a woody enclave of northwest Miami-Dade County, immune from government regulation. No tax collector came around demanding a chunk of the handle.
It seemed like a perfect gaming setup, until the county Building and Neighborhood Compliance Office teamed up with Animal Control and raided the basin.
Some 45 cock-fighting operations were shut down in the four-square-mile bit of anarchy also known as the C-9 Basin. Raiders destroyed some 415 illegal structures including game-cock pens and training areas and fighting arenas. Hundreds of roosters, some valued at thousands of dollars each, were seized.
That was 2010. It wasn’t until the Florida Legislature convened for the 2012 session that the ultimate flaw in the Snake Creek Basin business plan became apparent: No lobbyists. South Florida’s favorite blood sport (aside from politics) seems to be the only gambling pursuit that hasn’t lobbied up this year in Tallahassee.
Cock fighting happens to be illegal, but illegality has proven only a minor impediment in Florida. About 1,000 storefront slot-machine parlors, disguised as Internet cafes or senior citizen arcades or maquinitas, have been blatantly flouting state law, yet they’ve bought themselves staunch defenders in the Legislature. Lobbying works.
A bill originally designed to limit new gambling operations to just three swanky “destination” casinos in South Florida has attracted lobbyists from all manner of other betting operations. Suddenly, every gambling operation in the state is trying to glom onto the casino bill. Racinos want a lower tax rate. Other pari-mutuels want their own slots, including a barrel-racing track in Gretna. Meanwhile, Genting, with plans for a $3 billion casino complex on Biscayne Bay, has hired two dozen lobbyists and doled out $628,320 in political contributions. Now there’s an object lesson for our beleaguered rooster crowd.
Who would even notice, amid the casino frenzy, if their lobbyist quietly inserted a rider in that giant casino bill restoring the Snake Creek Basin to its inglorious and shabby past?
Of course, cock fighting, a disgusting, cruel, utterly uncivilized pursuit, will require some artful public relations work. But in Florida, a lousy rep can be easily fixed with the mere promise of millions of rooster revenue for our desperate schools. And so many new jobs along with all that the blood, gore, mayhem and flying feathers. Construction jobs to rebuild gamecock arenas. Fry-cook jobs to recycle the losers.
Chicken wranglers, hire yourselves a lobbyist. Your time has come.