Genting hasn’t been able to bring a casino to Miami, but soon it will be able to bring a sizeable chunk of Miami to a casino.
The Malaysian company is preparing to launch a small cruise ship capable of whisking more than 1,500 passengers from Port Miami to its new casino two hours away in Bimini.Neither side was granting interviews Tuesday, but a draft port agreement posted Tuesday night on the county’s website outlined the deal. Genting will pay about $11 million upfront to fund the county’s refurbishment of Terminal H for the new ship, and then be reimbursed in the form of rent credits for the construction cost. The agreement, to be voted on by the County Commission next month, calls for Genting to pay the port about $7 million yearly in rent.
Genting executives had initial talks with port executives and county commissioners Audrey Edmonson and Lynda Bell, who heads the committee that oversees the port, during an April meeting in Singapore, according to a source familiar with the county-funded trip.
The new ship, which is already docked at Port Miami, is slated to make its first official run to Bimini on Friday, with a ceremony featuring Bahamian and Miami-Dade leaders and top Genting executives. Genting plans to offer two trips a day: the first leaving at 9 a.m. and returning at 7 p.m., and a second “Night Party Cruise” leaving at 9 p.m. and returning at 5 a.m. Tickets start at $49.
The launch of the Bimini SuperFast marks a big step for Genting’s entry into the local gambling market. The company purchased the old Miami Herald headquarters in 2011 but the Legislature did not provide the needed change in state gambling laws to put a casino there. Genting said it still plans to build a large residential and hotel complex on the site, and it will bear the company’s global brand, Resorts World Miami.
Last year, Genting announced plans to turn the Bimini Bay Resort into Resorts World Bimini, and is planning to officially open the casino Friday with the new boat’s maiden voyage. At 10,000-square-feet, the casino is tiny when compared to the 140,000 square feet at the Seminole Hard Rock casino in Hollywood and 67,000 square feet at the Miccosukee casino in western Miami-Dade.
Genting hopes the allure of a largely unspoiled Bahamian island and the fun of an ocean voyage will make Bimini Bay a sought-after day trip for locals and vacationers. And Genting is pointing out that its Bimini resort won’t be governed by the more restrictive gambling laws of Florida, and can offer “Vegas-style” gambling, including roulette, craps, baccarat and bets on professional sports.
But one veteran of the casino-resort industry said the location could be a challenge for Genting.
“There are some good gaming offerings already in South Florida,’’ said Howard Karawan, who once ran the Atlantis casino resort in Nassau and presided over the re-launch of the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. “While Bimini has some nice offerings, there’s going to have to be more than just a little casino to attract them over there.”