Economy a fleeting shield in the attack of the mega-casinos
Written by Michael Lewis on April 16, 2014
It’s not just the struggle for a new state compact with the Seminole Tribe that shields us today from assault by the top guns of global casino owners.
Momentarily protecting Miami from the inevitable attack to gain a casino takeover are the concurrent ascent of arts and cultural institutions, rising economy, booming tourism, falling unemployment, and the euphoria of a real estate and construction bonanza.
Together, these blessings obliterate the claims of the casino owners’ hired hands that we can only make gains as a “real city” with the so-called aid of massive gambling palaces that can lure visitors to Miami, create an attraction, foster construction and offer jobs where others are scarce.
Casino interests dangled those promises before, when our economy had gone very far south. Casinos would be the panacea for all woes, a cure-all that could make us the Las Vegas of the East.
But while Miami-Dade’s star has been on the ascent, Las Vegas, Atlantic City and other areas that bet on casinos to survive have been on a rapid decline, as have some casinos – which shows just how dire things can get, because it’s almost as hard for a casino to lose money as it is for a gambler to win or a host community to prosper.
Right now, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his team are trying to cut a new deal with the Seminoles. Part of the current pact, which brings a chunk of more than $2 billion annual casino profits to the state treasury in return for reining in other gambling, is about to expire, and the state wants to increase the $1 billion it collected from the tribe over the past five years.
Once that deal is set, the mega-casino interests will have a better lay of the land on the battlefield for their own assault on Florida. That tribal compact could be done by summer. Then it would go to Washington to approve, as any state deal with a tribe must.
That deal would come far too late to produce new laws to permit mega-casinos in our annual legislative session that ends May 2. While Gov. Scott could call a special session on gambling, he’d need to weigh what that could mean to his chances in the November election.
Would a governor pushing to open doors far wider to gambling be more or less popular with voters? Unless our economy nosedives, he’s better off playing up economic victories, real or imagined, than he is campaigning for casinos to bail out a leaky economy that he’s at the helm of.
That could buy us more time before gambling’s next assault.
But whenever it is, an assault surely is coming. With billions of annual profits at stake, casino teams are flush with funds, focused on one objective and relentless. We can hold them off forever or yield just once and have a casino-controlled Miami in perpetuity. That’s our unhappy choice: fight or lose
As for defense, Andy Gardiner, a gambling opponent from the Disney stronghold of Orlando, is to take over as Senate president after the November election. That puts him in the best strategic place to fight the casinos.
But by far our best allies are economic strengths. As long as jobs grow, however slowly, and while real estate booms and cranes loom on our skyline, with foreign investors flocking here to buy condos and do business in what is far from a gambling town, we’re shielded. Those gains are tangible proof that we’re far better off without mega-casinos than with them.
The problem comes when the economy swings down – and the best bet you can make in Miami is that the economy will swing the other way, because it always has. We don’t know when that swing will come or how strong it can be, but we can safely bet the ranch that it’s coming sometime.
That’s when casino forces will attack, and when their cadre of lobbyists and “consultants” will find the most malleable voters. It’s far more persuasive in a downturn to trumpet, as Malaysian casino giant Genting did, that it can offer jobs in air conditioning to people who will be lucky enough to wear uniforms. Forget that during these boom times Genting refuses to pay even the US minimum wage on its cruise ship to its Bahamas casino – at least there’s air conditioning and a uniform. Hooray!
The casino forces can count on the day coming when even their below-minimum-wage jobs sound plausible.
That’s why they’re unlikely to tear down the hulk of the old Miami Herald site they own on the bay in order to start building a resort there. The partly demolished structure is likely to rot as a symbol to the community until new gambling laws permit their mega-casino. It’s Genting’s rotten beacon of hope.
Why not? That partially destroyed hulk is as hopeful as mega-casino gambling is going to get.