A top campaign official for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has ended his role as a consultant for Genting, an abrupt change that came after the casino giant sued the county to force acceptance of a new slots parlor in downtown Miami.
Jesse Manzano-Plaza, who runs the day-to-day operations for Gimenez’s reelection effort, said Tuesday he stopped being a Genting consultant last week after years of working for the Malaysia-based company.
Gimenez this week said he is against Genting’s plan to bring slot machines and card games to the old Omni mall. The slots plan — first unveiled in 2014 but recently brought back into the spotlight because of the suit —represents a dramatically scaled-down version of the casino resort that the company first proposed when it purchased the old Miami Herald headquarters and Omni complex in 2011.
“I’m not in favor of that kind of additional gambling here in Miami-Dade County,” Gimenez said of Genting’s slots plan. “I don’t think at this point it would help. I don’t think that was the original intent of Genting.” He distinguished his opposition to the Omni proposal from his stance on Genting’s original vision of a massive waterfront resort with the world’s largest casino.
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“It was more of a destination-type casino,” Gimenez said. “It was going to go before the voters of Miami-Dade County. I don’t really have a problem with that, as long as voters approve it.”
Genting’s litigation comes at a sensitive time for Gimenez, who has received $60,000 in campaign donations from Genting and the Capo Group, which owns Genting’s Bimini resort. (Of that, $15,000 came from Genting itself.) He’s facing a challenge from school board member Raquel Regalado, whose campaign criticized Manzano-Plaza’s role with Genting in the wake of the company’s litigation. Regalado’s father, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, has taken more of a hard-line stance against Genting bringing gambling to Miami.
“I’m opposed to having a casino in downtown Miami,” said Mayor Regalado, who presented Genting with the key to the city after the company bought the Herald land in 2011, but he then turned on the company’s proposal. “I think that would hurt all the work we have been doing in downtown for the last six years. I think downtown doesn’t need a casino or slot machines to be a destination.”
Manzano-Plaza’s primary job is as a partner in the communications arm of the LSN lobbying firm in Miami Beach. He was a registered lobbyist for Genting from 2011 until April 2015, according to county records. Also that month, his private political consulting entity, Tridente Strategies, began working for a Gimenez committee called Miami-Dade Residents First. Tridente continues receiving $7,000 a month from the committee, and Manzano-Plaza serves as Gimenez’s reelection spokesman and a top campaign official.
While his lobbying registration ended a year ago, Manzano-Plaza said Thursday that he continued working as a communications consultant for Genting. But on Tuesday, Manzano-Plaza said he was no longer working for Genting and that his tenure ended last week. He referred questions to Genting. On Tuesday, company spokeswoman Melissa Rieder wrote: “We have had a working relationship with Mr. Manzano since 2011, however, we suspended our relationship with Mr. Manzano last week and he hasn’t been a lobbyist for us since 2015.”
Genting’s litigation lists both Miami-Dade and the state attorney’s office as defendants. The suit, filed April 27, asks a judge to declare it lawful for Gulfstream Park, a Hallandale Beach casino and race track, to transfer a spare slots license south to Genting’s Omni property. The suit, if successful, would prevent county police and prosecutors from blocking expansion of gambling into the Omni.
State regulators have already ruled against the joint effort by Gulfstream and Genting, but the lawsuit would give a Miami-Dade judge the chance to weigh in on the push to bring a new slots facility into downtown. In 2007, Miami-Dade voters approved bringing slots to existing race tracks and jai-alai facilities in the county, but none is located in downtown Miami.
Raquel Regalado said she also opposes Genting’s slots plan for the Omni.
“Go figure,” she said. “Carlos Gimenez and I agree on something.”
Miami Herald staff writer Daniel Chang contributed to this report.