HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. Just around the corner from the poker room and within shouting distance of the greyhound track here at the Mardi Gras Casino, the Amazing Spider-Man slot machine beckons gamblers with its spinning masked superhero and his nemesis the Green Goblin.
At the touch of a button, this Spider-Man can pay out fortunes or, more typically, deplete wallets.
But in the recently renewed battle over casino gambling in Florida this year, the popular Spider-Man slot machine delivers a different sort of jolt altogether. Spider-Man is one of a stable of Marvel superheroes that the Walt Disney Co. acquired for $4 billion in 2009 and that continue to appear on slot machines, Internet slot machines and state lottery tickets. The lottery tickets have featured Iron Man and the Avengers.
Disney, a powerhouse in Florida because of its financial might and its sway over the tourism industry, has long led the fight against the expansion of casinos in the state, arguing successfully that gambling tarnishes Florida’s coveted family-friendly brand.
This year is no exception. For the second time in two years, state lawmakers are preparing to decide whether Las Vegas-style resort casinos should be allowed to open in Florida, a move that Disney hopes to thwart again. The company is so opposed to gambling that not even Disney cruise ships offer casinos, a mainstay of major cruise liners.
But in a nation increasingly awash in various forms of gambling, Disney is finding that keeping a constantly growing entertainment conglomerate completely removed from gambling is far more challenging than it used to be.
Asked whether Disney’s ties to the gambling industry, through Marvel, undercut its position on casino gambling, a Marvel spokeswoman said last week that the company planned to shed its connection to slot machines when the various licensing agreements expire. On Saturday, the spokeswoman added that Marvel had signed its last slot machine deal two years ago.
Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk and others will begin to disappear from casinos and Internet gambling sites over the next “few years,” the spokeswoman said.
The spokeswoman also said late Saturday that Marvel has no active lottery deals and does not plan to sign any new ones.
Disney also faces a similar issue with its $4 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm last year. “Star Wars” characters, which have been featured in Disney parks for years, are also widely used in slot machines.
On Thursday, a Disney spokeswoman said the decision not to renew Lucasfilm and Marvel licensing agreements once they expired had been made recently. It had not previously been made public.
In the years since Disney’s acquisition of Marvel, gambling opponents and the company’s critics, including those seeking to open Vegas-style casinos in Florida, have accused Disney of being disingenuous in its campaign against casinos as new slot machines rolled out. Its competitors argue that Disney fears competition more than gambling.
“Disney’s internecine warfare against integrated resorts in Florida under this pretense demeans them significantly,” said Michael A. Leven, president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which seeks to open a casino in South Florida.
A spokeswoman for Walt Disney World, Andrea M. Finger, said it could take several years for policies to align after two corporations merged, always a complex endeavor. But she said Disney’s commitment to keeping Vegas-style resorts out of the state was unwavering.
“We oppose the legalization of so-called destination resort casinos because this major expansion of gambling is inconsistent with Florida’s reputation as a family-friendly destination,” Finger said.
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