Published: Nov 01, 2011 10:04 PM EDT
Updated: Nov 01, 2011 10:48 PM EDT

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Lawmakers have introduced two similar bills in Tallahassee, which could allow three casinos to break ground in South Florida.

The measure could also pave the way for a gaming resort in Lee County.

The bills are drawing opposition from religious groups statewide, but interest in the economic promise of new tourism is growing too.

Armando Nargi, president of the Lee County Chamber of Commerce, joins the list of local casino supporters and is willing to take a gamble on one within county limits.

"Tourism peak is usually around the first four months of the year, but something like a casino would bring a year-round attraction," Nargi said. "It'll be a tax base. It'll create regular jobs."

Last month, news first broke that Champion Development Corportation was eyeing 50 acres of land at The Forum in Fort Myers.

The company already owns the property and wants to build a $1.6-billion gaming resort on it, complete with convention and retail space, restaurants and a night club.

According to the company's consulting firm, Atlanta-based Whitestar Strategies, an economic study estimates the resort would generate roughly 14,000 construction jobs, 7,000 permanent jobs, and $100 million in tax revenues for the state and local governments.

But first, state lawmakers and Lee County voters would have to approve it.

Statewide religious groups, and some lawmakers, are determined to stall the measure, saying that more casinos would only further crime and poverty.

"Reliance on an unstable form of revenue would depend upon those who are addicted to gambling, many of whom are already among the ranks of the poorest in our community," said Mike McCarron, with the Florida Catholic Conference.

Meantime, some casino-style businesses that are already established are remaining neutral on the matter until more details come out.

"There are so many hurdles and changes to laws that would have to happen that until we saw something, we wouldn't take an opinion one way or another," said Isadore Havenick, with the Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track.

At this point, the bills in the legislature only apply to the casinos proposed for South Florida, but State Rep. Matt Caldwell had said he planned to get Lee County included in the wording.

Tuesday, he said that is still his goal, but he first plans to review the obstacles the bill faces before speaking with the sponsor.