Miami-Dade County

Genting sues Miami-Dade, state prosecutor to force OK for Omni casino

Former Miami Herald site where casino operator Genting hopes to build a resort.
Former Miami Herald site where casino operator Genting hopes to build a resort. MIAMI HERALD

Genting Group, the Malaysian casino operator whose plan to build a massive gambling resort in downtown Miami has been stalled by legal and political setbacks, is suing Miami-Dade County and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle in what appears to be a last-ditch effort to force the state to allow card games and slots at its property in the old Omni mall.

The novel legal tack seems designed to get around a 2014 denial by state regulators of Gulfstream Park’s request to move a pari-mutuel permit to the Omni, where the Hallandale Beach racetrack had an agreement with Genting to establish a casino.

The lawsuit, filed April 27 by Genting real-estate division Resorts World Omni, asks a judge to pre-emptively declare it lawful for Gulfstream to run a casino at the Omni. That order, if granted, would preclude Miami-Dade police and state prosecutors from filing criminal charges against the Omni casino operators.

“The purpose of the action is to ensure that our review of the relevant laws is accurate and to provide clarity and certainty that the activities contemplated by the lease are permissible,” said Chris Kise, an attorney with the Tallahassee office of Foley & Lardner who filed the suit on behalf of Resorts World.

Ed Griffith, a spokesman for Fernandez Rundle’s office, said the lawsuit was served on the office Tuesday and has been referred to the state attorney general’s civil office in Fort Lauderdale. The Miami-Dade County Attorney’s office declined to comment.

The purpose of the action is to ensure that our review of the relevant laws is accurate and to provide clarity and certainty that the activities contemplated by the lease are permissible.

Attorney Chris Kise

The lawsuit, first reported by the Next Miami website, comes amid mounting questions over Genting’s plans for its extensive downtown holdings, which include the Omni mall and hotel and the 14-acre former Miami Herald property, which the casino operator bought in 2011 for $236 million.

In April, a developer told the Herald on condition of anonymity that he had been shown the property, raising the possibility that Genting, as long rumored, was seeking to sell out. That meeting, which a Genting spokeswoman denied ever happened, purportedly happened after the latest failed attempt to change Florida gambling laws during the 2016 legislative session.

But the lawsuit suggests Genting still hopes to open a casino on its property. The legal action caps a series of complex maneuvers by Genting and Gulfstream to establish grounds for using the racetrack’s existing permits to allow gambling at the Omni and the former Herald property next door.

In preparation for the suit, Gulfstream signed a one-year, $1 lease with Resorts World Omni in April for a scant 7,500 square feet of space at the former shopping mall. The lawsuit, filed two days later, then cites the bare-bones lease as grounds for asking a judge to make a ruling on the planned operation’s legality.

The suit comes two years after the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation blocked a previous attempt by Genting to open a casino at the Omni. The agency ruled Broward County-based Gulfstream could not move a permit to Miami-Dade even though its property straddles the county line.

Resorts World had struck a deal in January 2014 with Gulfstream owner The Stronach Group and breeders and thoroughbred horse owners and trainers to open an Omni casino. According to the lawsuit, Gulfstream transferred a permit allowing it to run quarter-horse races to a non-profit affiliate, the Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred After Racing Program, or GPTARP, with state approval. The state also approved conversion of the permit to a limited thoroughbred permit and allowed the non-profit to conduct racing at Gulfstream.

Resorts World wanted to use that permit to operate an Omni casino while GPTARP ran races at Gulfstream to meet state pari-mutuel requirements. To qualify for the permit, Gulfstream Park officials conducted two pari-mutuel races on Dec. 18, 2013, but those were only 150 yards each.

Gulfstream argues that the races should qualify it to operate in Miami-Dade because they were conducted near the start of the one-mile chute of Gulfstream Park’s dirt track, the portion of the property that sits inside Miami-Dade. The remainder of Gulfstream Park’s track is in Broward.

But the gambit, which critics said was based on shaky legal grounds, failed when the state regulators ruled the permit was meant to be used in Broward only.

Genting then had hopes that lawmakers would agree to a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe and use that to add another slots permit in Miami-Dade. Although the tribe agreed to allow a new casino permit in Miami-Dade, the Legislature adjourned again without completing a gaming compact or passing any gambling legislation.

The suit essentially seeks to neutralize regulators, police and prosecutors. It says Gulfstream has already moved the permit to Miami-Dade and asks a judge to bless the action.

Although the state “may not agree” with the decision to operate the permit in Miami-Dade, said Kise, the Resorts World attorney, the regulating agency “doesn’t enforce the criminal laws.”

Miami Herald Staff Writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.