Op-Ed

Large casino on the waterfront bad fit for both Miami and Miami Beach

View of the demolition of the Miami Herald building at 1 Herald Plaza. The plan to build a casino on the waterfront site has been stalled for years.
View of the demolition of the Miami Herald building at 1 Herald Plaza. The plan to build a casino on the waterfront site has been stalled for years. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

More than five years have passed since the Genting Group arrived in Miami to purchase the former Miami Herald building with the goal of bringing the world’s largest casino resort to our city.

Their pitch was straightforward: Embrace the development of a mega-casino along Biscayne Bay and in return, Miami will benefit from new jobs, new tourists, more tax revenue and billions in economic impact.

It was a tempting promise at a time when our community was still reeling from the Great Recession, but it was too good to be true.

Since 2011, neighborhoods surrounding Genting’s property and beyond have enjoyed an economic rebound that has surpassed even the most optimistic predictions.

Private investment amounting to tens of billions of dollars is pouring into Miami Beach and downtown. Our region’s hotels are enjoying some of the highest average room rates in the country thanks to a record-setting number of tourists. New cultural outlets are opening their doors. Families and young professionals are moving into the urban core in droves. Small businesses are launching, and global firms are looking to Miami as their entry point into the United States.

All of this progress has taken place without a Las Vegas-style casino in our back yard. In fact, Genting’s property remains vacant today, even as new obstacles enter the company’s path to development. The Legislature in Tallahassee has refused to embrace full-scale gaming, and the city of Miami Beach filed a legal brief stating its categorical opposition to Genting’s development in July.

I supported Miami Beach’s legal filing as a sitting commissioner for the same reasons I opposed Genting’s plans back in 2011, when I served as immediate past chair of the Adrienne Arsht Center. Opening the door to unbridled casino gaming would destroy our community’s quality of life, tarnish Miami’s global brand and divert precious resources from sustainable industries.

As a public servant and lifetime Miami-Dade County resident, I believe a casino in the heart of downtown would clog our community’s roads and bridges, which are already overburdened with gridlock as our residential and tourism populations grow.

As a businessman, I fear expanding gaming would dilute the world’s perception of Miami as a cosmopolitan commercial hub whose best days are still to come.

Rather than investing false hope in an unstable casino economy, we should be putting our energy and dollars into growth sectors like technology, education and the life sciences.

And as a father-to-be, I fear expanding gaming in my hometown will expose future generations to the well-documented social ills derived from casinos — from heightened crime and gambling addiction to drug use and unemployment.

Miami-Dade’s municipalities, businesses and civic groups should follow Miami Beach’s example by formally opposing Genting’s plans and putting our collective energy toward initiatives that will protect and improve our quality of life.

For example, Miami Beach is upgrading its public parks, improving mobility with the addition of a street car and integrating new technologies within its infrastructure grid to make life on the Beach safer and more efficient. All of these projects will be possible without the tax revenues from casinos.

Plenty of communities across America and around the world rely on gambling to put people to work, lure visitors and spur economic growth.

Fortunately, Miami isn't one of them — and we've got the track record to prove it.

Ricky Arriola is a Miami Beach commissioner, an Adrienne Arsht Center board member and CEO of Inktel Holdings.

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