Long before the new baseball park in Little Havana was built, a deal was struck between Miami-Dade County and one of Miami’s first major gambling establishments promising the county a cut of profits as long as the county didn’t do anything to harm slot machine revenues.
Yet four years later, clearly visible to the thousands of travelers who use State Road 836 each day, is an illuminated sign along the northern wall of Miami Marlins Park advertising the Miccosukee Indian Tribe — obvious competitors for the vital gambling dollars that Magic City Casino is trying to attract, its owners say.
The sign violates the agreement reached after the public voted in 2008 to allow slots at three Miami-Dade pari-mutuels including Magic City, says Isadore Havenick, the casino’s vice president of political affairs, whose family owns the facility.
The casino has hired lobbyist Ron Book, who brought the issue before Miami commissioners in May. Magic City officials have since spoken to staff in the county mayor’s office about it.
The agreement called for Magic City to give the state $4 million and pay Miami and Miami-Dade between 1¼ percent and 2 percent of gross revenues of the slot machines for the following 30 years. So far, the local governments have received a combined total of $2.4 million from Magic City, with another payment due soon.
Havenick says the county is not abiding by a paragraph in the 12-page deal that states the sides must return to the negotiating table “to revise the terms and conditions of this agreement’’ if the county in any way promotes competition to the Magic City Casino.
Despite brief discussions with county administrators, there has not been any movement toward new talks, he said.
“We plan on honoring the deal we made with the residents of Miami,’’ he said. “We’d like to sit down and work out something amicable.”
The situation is complicated, because though the county owns the ballpark and the land it sits on, the Marlins are renters and control the facility’s advertising.
Assistant County Attorney Geri Bonzon-Keenan said she was briefed on the issue by county staff, but she has not spoken directly to the Marlins or the Magic City Casino.
County spokeswoman Suzy Trutie said there have been no formal discussions between the county and Magic City, but that “the administration is open to discussing any issues regarding its agreements with Magic City Casino and the Miami Marlins.”
Without going into detail, Marlins President David Samson called it a “non-issue.”
Havenick said the Miccosukee sign was a non-issue to him as well until he heard Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones at a meeting earlier this year arguing for new terms in the Magic City agreement that would offer the city a better deal. No new agreement was struck, but Havenick found the commissioner’s suggestion unsettling.
Still, Havenick said he’s not contemplating litigation yet because the contract calls for renegotiating in good faith first. He isn’t focused on demanding a cut of the Miccosukee advertising revenue. Negotiations could lead to anything from removing the Miccosukee sign, to adding a sign promoting the Magic City Casino only a few miles away.
“It’s disheartening. We worked with them for so long” on the contract, he said.