In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: South Florida gambling plan is major affront to quality of life

After roaming the Pérez Art Museum Miami galleries on a recent Saturday, my daughter and I were enjoying cool bay breezes and sandwiches at the only table with an empty chair when a well-heeled woman with a foreign accent asked if she could join us.

Seldom are sweeter words spoken to a journalist.

I jump at opportunities to chat with people at Miami venues and this Brazilian interior designer didn’t disappoint.

She’s one of the newer Miamians driving the upswing in the real estate market: Part-time residents who make their money elsewhere but spend it here. What attracts them to the Magic City is the beauty of the landscape, the family-friendly lifestyle, and the global-city culture.

My tablemate owns an apartment in one of the translucent new skyscrapers across Museum Park on Biscayne Boulevard. She loves the new PAMM, the nearby Arsht Center, and can’t wait to take her children to the Science Museum under construction.

“In Río, we go like this when we go out,” she tells me, making the sign of the cross across her chest, “and we pray that we return in one piece and with all our belongings. But here, we are so free. We feel so safe.”

I should’ve brought her down to earth a little, but I was Miami-giddy that day.

The grim reality is that the stately neighborhood she now calls home is facing nothing short of a major affront on its quality of life as the state’s resistance to casino gambling expansion folds, player by player.

In a stunning move this week, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican who previously opposed gambling expansion, told the Herald/Times Bureau that he’s now open to passing legislation that would allow Las Vegas-style casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward.

If this happens, the Malaysian casino giant Genting will have overcome a major hurdle in the fight to turn the waterfront property the company purchased in 2011, the old Miami Herald and Omni complex sites, into a mega resort casino.

The project is a game-changer for any area, but a truly ruinous one for a once struggling part of downtown that has been turned – through decades of tremendous civic and public efforts – into an arts and cultural gem.

The state’s own $400,000 study on the impact of expanding casino gambling concluded that the negative effects on communities could outweigh the state revenue casinos were expected to generate and the jobs they might create.

The speaker, who’s from Pasco County and has enormous power in setting the agenda for the Legislature, seems not to care one iota about what happens in South Florida.

In exchange for pushing through the casino gambling expansion as a priority this session, Weatherford wants a constitutional amendment that requires voters to approve any future gaming.

His condition is only a bone he’s throwing fellow conservatives who oppose gambling. Voters have in the past turned down casino gambling expansion, but look where we’re now. That’s how little the speaker respects them. What truly matters is that, in this hard-fought election year, Weatherford’s support will fill Republican coffers with campaign contribution from gambling interests.

But hey, if Miami’s ruined in the process, it’s all good.

Rich Brazilians beware.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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