Miami Beach commissioners have left no doubt that they don’t want gambling in their city. On Friday, the city commission voted 6-0 to give preliminary approval to two ordinances that would ban casinos or any other gambling facilities in the seaside city.
The move came after the state Legislature considered granting another casino license in South Florida. Even though that deal fell apart in the last days of the legislative session, the Beach rushed to draft the ordinances and hold an accelerated series of meetings to approve them.
“Casinos are great for cities that have a challenging future; that don’t have a real vision,” Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine told the Miami Herald. “If you have a city that doesn’t have a future, that doesn’t know where it wants to go, I understand. But when you have a city like Miami Beach, why try to fix something that’s not broken?”
The commission’s unanimous vote came in a special session called for the sole purpose of approving the ban after the planning board endorsed the ordinances on Thursday. Commissioner Michael Grieco was absent. Commissioners will take the final vote on July 26.
Residents and politicians have long bristled at the thought of a casino opening on the island. For years, it’s been a popular position among elected officials to oppose any possibility of gaming in the Beach.
Gambling interests have had eyes on the city for decades.
The Fontainebleau, arguably the Beach’s most famous hotel, has expressed interest in a gaming license if it were to become available. On Friday, Alex Heckler, the hotel’s lobbyist, pressed commissioners to conduct an economic impact study before making any decisions — a step he says is required by the city charter.
“We urge you to please consider the bigger picture,” Heckler said. “Consider the impact of a super-sized casino on the other side of the I-395 causeway and what it would do if there was gaming on one side of the causeway and not the other side. Consider the impacts to our city’s resort tax collections.”
The city won’t be conducting an economic impact study, said Commissioner Ricky Arriola. “It isn’t required by the charter; that’s [the hotel’s] interpretation. The ordinance was passed on first reading and it will soon become law.”
Long-time resident Christine Florez said she fears a casino would only exacerbate the city’s problems.
“Traffic, parking, short-term rentals,” she said. “If a casino ever comes here, where are these people going to park? Where they going to stay? I’m afraid people will turn their properties into short-term rentals, which will continue contributing to the lack of affordable housing in our community.”
Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez told the Herald on Tuesday that she would consider supporting a casino if revenues could be directed toward elderly programs and education. On Friday, she entered the chambers late — just in time to vote.
“Yes to no casinos,” she said.
One of the heavyweights in the Beach’s tourism scene officially weighed in this week. Directors of Art Basel, the internationally known art fair that is held at the Miami Beach Convention Center each December, voiced their opposition to gambling in a letter to Levine and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.
“We are hereby writing to voice Art Basel’s strong opposition to the establishment of casino gambling, slots and table games in the city of Miami Beach,” reads a letter signed by global director Marc Spiegler and Americas director Noah Horowitz. “We are also opposed to the expansion of casino gambling, slots and table games in the city of Miami as well.”
Levine and Regalado released a joint statement Thursday citing the art fair’s concerns and arguing that more gaming would lead to increased crime and gambling addiction.
“We are happy that our state Legislature came to their senses, but we hope that this awful bill is not revived in any form in the future,” they said.