TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott denied Friday that he’s flip-flopped on his opposition to an expansion of gambling and said he won’t make his flight plans public when using his private jet for state business.
Those comments came at Scott’s first formal news conference since taking office Tuesday.
It was a brief but wide-ranging encounter with the press corps that lasted just less than 17 minutes. Scott also was asked about some of the high salaries he’s paying his staff, his order freezing state rule-making and his relationship with the media.
The multimillionaire Republican businessman used five minutes to recap his first days as governor before taking questions.
One of the first was about a report in The Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times saying he’s now open to allowing Las Vegas-style casino resorts following a private meeting with a Nevada gaming company owner two weeks after the Nov. 2 election.
“I don’t know why anybody would say that,” Scott said. “I’ve not taken any position other than the position I’ve already said.”
Scott told reporters he doesn’t want the state to “become very largely dependent on gaming for revenue” but noted Florida already allows gambling.
There’s a state lottery, and Florida has a compact with the Seminole Indians to get a cut from gambling at tribal casinos. The state also permits betting at horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons. Those pari-mutuel facilities also are allowed poker rooms, and the ones in Miami-Dade and Broward counties can have slot machines.
“I’m fine with what they are doing,” Scott said. “I’ve not taken any position I want to expand gaming or make any changes.”
Scott said his visit with casino operator Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., was just a stop on the way to the Republican Governors Association meeting in San Diego. Scott did not elaborate, but Sands spokesman Ron Reese called it an “introductory meeting.”
The company has been pushing Florida to lift its ban on casino gambling, and Adelson has said he’s willing to invest up to $3 billion on a Miami project.
The Republican-controlled Legislature has been reluctant to expand gambling, and many members are opposed on moral grounds. Legislation is expected to be filed this year, though, to allow four or five casino resorts and create a commission to regulate them.
Scott, who made his fortune in the health care business, flew to see Adelson in his personal jet he’s also using on state business, picking up all costs including fuel out of his own pocket.
The governor also has ordered the sale of the state’s two remaining executive aircraft, a jet and a turboprop, to save the state money. He’s said Cabinet members and other officials can drive or fly commercial if they need to go somewhere.
Scott blocks his plane from Flight Aware, a website that tracks the whereabouts of private as well as commercial aircraft. He said he’ll continue to keep his jet unlisted.
“I’ve never done it,” he said. “I don’t believe in it.”
Scott, who spent more than $70 million of his own money to get elected, promised he wouldn’t accept his $130,273 salary, but he’ll be kept on the books as getting 1 cent for accounting purposes.
He’s paying some staffers even more than he would have gotten, though.
They include budget director Jerry McDaniel, a holdover from former Gov. Charlie Crist’s administration; chief of staff Mike Prendergast, a retired Army officer and unsuccessful GOP congressional candidate; and policy adviser Mary Ann Carter, formerly executive director of a group Scott created to oppose the national health care overhaul.
Each will get $150,000.
“The goal is look around the country and around the state and find the best people and pay them a competitive compensation,” Scott said.
Scott was unable to cite any specific rule or regulation he wants to block or repeal during the freeze and review process he’s ordered. He said he’ll weigh their benefits to consumers against the potential they have for “killing jobs.”
His communications director, Brian Burgess, instituted a new rule for the press corps by asking reporters to stay seated until Scott left the conference room. Traditionally, they’ve gathered around past governors as they left in what’s known as a “gaggle” to get in additional questions.
Scott said he wanted to have a positive relationship with the media, telling reporters, “You have a job to do, report what’s going on and sort of make it organized.”