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Politics

Gambling Industries and Trial Lawyers Placing Bets on 2016 Legislative Races

February 19, 2015 - 6:00pm

In any election in Florida, some of the main groups focused on candidate recruitment on the Republican side are the leaders of the business community, such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce or the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF). But some of the most active groups seeking candidates for legislative races in 2016 are the gambling interests and the trial lawyers.

The gambling interests and the trial lawyers have rarely been at each others throats, but that could change in 2016. Take, for example, two of the five House seats that opened up in a 10-mile stretch of Brevard and Indian River counties, where both groups are starting to place early bets for 2016.

State Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, who represents all of Indian River County and the northern part of St. Lucie County, is term-limited in 2016. Currently, four Republicans are seeking the office and there are rumors that five other candidates could emerge to run for the seat.

The trial lawyers have one of their own in the race in Erin Grall, a personal injury attorney and the managing partner of the Grall Law Firm in Vero Beach. Gralls no political rookie. In 2010, in a four-candidate primary field for an open House seat, Grall came a close second to Tom Goodson.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce went after Grall in 2010, running radio ads and sending out mailers depicting her as a "greedy lawyer" and claiming "trial lawyers like Erin Grall are destroying small business and killing jobs." The Florida Chamber did not make an endorsement in that race but it did single out Grall as the one not to vote for in the Republican primary. Gralls already off and running for the House again, announcing her candidacy last month.

Another race starting to get attention is for the seat currently held by Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne Beach, who faces term limits in 2016. Tobias district covers the east coast of Brevard County along the beaches.

There are signs the gambling industry and trial lawyers are starting to look at the race. Already there are two candidates running in the Republican primary for Tobias seat: Brevard County Commissioner Andy Anderson, a Republican; and Republican newcomer Randy Fine, a gaming consultant.

The trial lawyers could be lining up behind Anderson even though he hasnt proposed any specific legislation in their favor. Sources tell Sunshine State News that Republican political consultant Anthony Pedicini is running the Anderson campaign.

Just ask the Florida Chamber. Back in August, the chamber lashed out at the Florida Justice Association for representing trial lawyers. While the Democrats are closer to the trial lawyers, during the 2014 Republican primaries the Florida Justice Association spent roughly $530,000 in a handful of hotly contested races without much success.

On gaming, Fine is certainly no stranger to the subject, being the managing director of the Nevada-based Fine Point Group. Fine has been a consultant to various gambling-related companies and was the CEO of Michigan casino in 2009. Hes also served on the board of directors for three gaming companies in recent years. He was a senior vice president of marketing at American Casino and Entertainment Properties and also worked as a vice president for slots and total rewards operations for Harrahs Entertainment.

Despite his background in the gaming business, Fine says he will not be gambling industrys candidate.

"I'm not pushing a gambling agenda," Fine told Sunshine State News, adding his main focus is about job creation, not expanded casino gambling in Florida. He also points out that his company does not own any casinos. Fine also said his background makes him a valuable resource for any Florida Legislature discussion of gaming.

Ed Dean, a senior editor with SSN whose talk show can be heard on radio stations across Florida, can be reached at ed@sunshinestatenews.com. Follow him on Twitter: @eddeanradio
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