Miami Beach

Casino ban is officially in the works in Miami Beach

A ban on casinos or any other gambling facility is being fast-tracked through Miami Beach City Hall after the state Legislature considered granting another casino license in South Florida.

Gaming talks in Tallahassee fell apart Tuesday, killing the chance for expansion days before the end of this year’s legislative session. But once Beach officials saw that a new casino license was in play last week, city staff drafted two ordinances banning gaming that will now move through an accelerated approval process.

At a hastily arranged meeting Wednesday morning, the commission voted 6-0, with Kristen Rosen Gonzalez absent, to send the ordinances to the citizen planning board. That board is scheduled to meet May 11 to form a recommendation on the ordinances that would the change the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning laws to prohibit gaming. The commission would then meet at 2 p.m. the next day for the first of two votes on the changes.

The six commissioners present echoed each other’s opposition to expanded gaming both in Miami Beach and across Miami-Dade.

“I don’t think it should be expanded at all,” Micky Steinberg said.

Rosen Gonzalez told the Miami Herald on Tuesday that she would support a casino if revenues could be directed toward education and senior programs.

A few residents spoke in favor of the ban. In a letter to to commissioners, auto magnate and art collector Norman Braman put his objections on the record. Braman is chairman of the host committee for Art Basel, the art fair known as the marquee tenant at the Miami Beach Convention Center each December. Art Basel spokesman Bob Goodman read the letter to commissioners Wednesday.

“I believe the future of Miami Beach as host of Art Basel would be placed in serious jeopardy if gaming reaches our community,” read the letter. “Directors of the art fair previously indicated gambling is not compatible with the world-class art fair.”

Goodman, who served on the commission in the early 1970s, noted that gambling interests have long considered the Beach to be a prime location for expansion.

“I was in the old City Hall, and we dealt with casino gambling then,” he said. “I’m talking 40 years ago.”

More recently, the Fontainebleau Hotel has stated its interest in obtaining a gaming license if an additional one were to become available. The hotel’s lobbyist, Alex Heckler, asked commissioners to slow down and do an economic impact study before zoning out gambling. He argued it’s important to know what could happen if a casino opened in Miami Beach or across Biscayne Bay.

The Fontainebleau’s take: Gambling in Miami-Dade that isn’t in Miami Beach will hurt local resort tax revenue. “Those impacts will hurt your hotels, your businesses and some of the mom-and-pop, locally owned restaurants,” Heckler said.

Beach commissioners can only control what happens within city limits, but they hope to convince other Miami-Dade governments to take the same tack. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado has stated he doesn’t support Malaysian gambling company Genting’s vision of building a casino on the old Miami Herald site on Biscayne Bay between the Venetian and MacArthur causeways.

City Attorney Raul Aguila said the city will comply with its charter and do an economic impact study.

It’s an election year in Miami Beach, so the discussion attracted a few candidates. Dan Gelber, a mayoral candidate and former state legislator, highlighted the significance of this year’s deal. While it failed because of an impasse between the House and Senate, the disagreement centered on slot machines in other counties that voted to approve games. The one or two casinos that would have been approved for South Florida were peripheral.

“The Florida Legislature had agreed that there was going to be one or two casinos in our backyard, without us even having a moment to weigh in any way,” he said.

Gelber’s opponent, Commissioner Michael Grieco, noted the common ground between him and Gelber.

“We see consensus on the dais, but this is one that also transcends politics,” he said. “We see consensus among candidates.”

This article has been corrected to reflect Norman Braman’s views on gambling in Miami Beach.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech