Miami Beach

Gambling deal fails, but local politicians still want to block new casinos

A measure that could have allowed casinos in Miami-Dade County died Tuesday in Tallahassee, but Miami Beach officials still want to block any chance of one opening later should the Legislature approve a similar measure in a future session.
A measure that could have allowed casinos in Miami-Dade County died Tuesday in Tallahassee, but Miami Beach officials still want to block any chance of one opening later should the Legislature approve a similar measure in a future session. AP

Despite the death of a new statewide gambling deal in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Miami and Miami Beach officials still want to stymie future gaming expansion.

Fully anticipating that talks about expanded gaming in South Florida will resume during the next legislative session, Miami Beach commissioners will meet Wednesday to discuss banning gambling in the city. In Miami, Mayor Tomás Regalado reiterated that he wants to prevent gaming establishments from opening downtown.

Even though lawmakers on Tuesday indicated that talks over expanded gaming collapsed amid an impasse between the House and the Senate, Beach commissioners will still talk about changing the city’s zoning map to prohibit any kind of gambling establishment from opening in the city.

Before reports of the deal falling apart, Commissioner Joy Malakoff called for an emergency meeting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the zoning changes and quickly send the items to the city’s planning board. On Tuesday, she told the Miami Herald she still wants to get a ban on the books because the question of expanding gaming in Miami-Dade has been coming up in the Legislature for several years.

“I got involved in the ‘no casino’ movement in the late 1980s,” she said. “I’ve always thought that it is wrong for this city.”

Malakoff’s stance echoes one taken by many elected officials and residents in the Beach for years. When the city solicited bidders to build a headquarters hotel attached to the Miami Beach Convention Center, they agreed not to choose a bidder with any direct or indirect interests in gaming in Miami-Dade.

That hotel plan failed in a public referendum, but the distaste for gambling on the island has remained. Commissioners predict that a casino in the Beach would create unbearable traffic jams and increase crime.

Gambling interests have eyed Miami Beach for years. In November 2011, as state lawmakers entered another debate over changing Florida’s gambling laws, then-mayor Matti Herrera Bower took a lunch meeting with casino magnate Steve Wynn at Joe’s Stone Crab. Wynn made a pitch for building a casino on municipal land should a pro-gambling bill pass, underscoring the longstanding interest in bring gambling to the Beach.

The Fontainebleau had expressed interest in applying for a slot license if Tallahassee approved a new one for Miami-Dade. In a statement Tuesday, Fontainebleau president Philip Goldfarb said the city should not rush to zone out gaming before any final action by the Legislature.

“It is premature for the City Commission to consider any new legislation on an issue that has not been finalized by the state Legislature,” he said. “The City Commission should wait and understand the economic and tourism impacts, as well as the effect it could have on the city’s tax revenues.”

One Beach commissioner is open to to the idea so long as there’s a way to steer a percentage of the revenue into local government coffers.

“If I could get recurring revenue for education and senior citizens, I would let the Fontainebleau have a casino,” said Kristen Rosen Gonzalez. “The majority of residents never go there. I never go there. It is an island unto its own.”

Rosen Gonzalez, who told the Herald she cannot attend Wednesday’s meeting due to work, added that a casino in the Beach would need to be “like the casinos in Monte Carlo — upscale.”

For now, the failure of a new gaming deal derails any hopes the Fontainebleau had of hosting the Beach’s first casino, as well as the desires Malaysian casino giant Genting has to build a new gaming complex on bayfront land in Miami. But the issue could arise next year. Gaming expansion has become a recurring theme during the annual legislative session.

Regalado gave Genting a key to the city when the company first announced plans for a massive complex on the bay. But he changed positions shortly afterward, and now says he’s opposed to any expansion in the number of casino sites in the city.

He is also opposes plans by the owners of Magic City Casino to open a card room and jai-lai fronton at 3000 Biscayne Blvd.

“Magic City has a huge facility that now is kind of underused. They have plenty of land. They could expand if they want to,” he said of the casino on Northwest 37th Avenue.

The owners of Magic City, West Flagler Associates, have applied for a pari-mutuel permit that would bring a jai-alai fronton to downtown Miami, near Edgewater, the Design District and Midtown. Under state law, they could open a poker room in the building the day after the first game of jai-alai is played.

Isadore Havenick, vice president of political affairs for West Flagler Associates, said Magic City currently has no plans to expand with casino-style games — an expansion that would only be possible with a change in state law.

Regalado said downtown can no longer accommodate Genting’s casino plans. And Edgewater, near the high-end shops of the Design District and artsy edge of Wynwood, is the wrong place for a card room, much less a full-blown casino, he said.

“The whole area has exploded with commercial and residential. We have more residents now than ever in that area. I don’t think it’s necessary.”

Regalado said he and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine discussed putting out a joint statement opposing gaming expansions in the two cities prior to the death Tuesday of a gaming bill in Tallahassee. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, who represents Edgewater, says he is planning meetings with representatives of West Flagler Associates and city planners in order to better understand the proposal.

“This is not the place. Miami has enough gambling as it is,” Regalado said. “We just don’t need in the middle of downtown — not from Genting, not from Magic City — any more gambling operations.”

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

David Smiley: 305-376-2284, @newsbysmiley