Huge casinos wouldn’t nourish us, just supersize problems
Written by Michael Lewis on March 11, 2015
”No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” the axiom goes – and a supersized 316-page House bill to supersize Florida gambling by adding mega-casinos proves the point.
Florida has shaken off a punishing recession and Miami in particular is booming. Cranes dominate downtown’s skyline. Jobs are growing, unemployment is down, visitors are flooding in. Times are good and improving.
If ever you’d think we’d be safe from big-time gambling, this would be the era.
But no, a Tampa representative walks into the House with a bill tailor-made for (and probably by) gambling interests that would, at least in Miami, undo hard-won economic gains.
As civic groups have united to resurrect One Community One Goal targeting industries with high-paying jobs and long-term potential for improved quality of life, the gambling industry is feeding us just the opposite.
Recall what the head of Genting, the Malaysian giant that bought the Miami Herald building and Omni mall for casinos, told us last time it made a mega-casino push here.
Jobs would be great, he said, because they’d be in air conditioning and those working would get to wear uniforms – the McDonald’s approach to pay ranges, and no burgers to flip.
Then he and his team bought nearby land to build dorms to house casino workers who’d be brought in from offshore to fill those uniform-wearing, air-conditioned jobs. Low-paying jobs, true, but not for us.
And this is the future a casino bill offers us – that and the chance to multiply all the social problems of big-time gambling, including addictions, crime, prostitution, poverty, homelessness and more.
Of course, we’d forfeit the high-spending visitors who’ve been flocking here from around the nation and the globe to a vastly improved cultural scene, spearheaded by Art Basel Miami Beach.
Those people come for a visit, then rent a condo, then buy a residence, then buy into businesses. They spend big, live well, help fuel our economy – and mostly wouldn’t visit a Las Vegas, much less live or invest there.
In their place, however, a mega-casino would lure here – just who? Gambling is so widespread that you don’t need to visit Miami to do it. Gambling visitors we’d get would be a long step down any ladder you could name from the people who now find Miami so attractive.
So who’d be the big customers of mega-casinos? Maybe locals – folks even Genting’s leader said shouldn’t be in the casino he wanted to build because they’d figuratively (and maybe literally) get their pockets picked. Early on he told Miamians they should only want to pick the pockets of visitors.
So are we going to build mega-casinos to cater to the retired poor souls who now hang out in our sad pari-mutuel slots halls? Look at the folks sitting there all day. Do we really want to build a huge multiple of that?
Genting still owns the old Herald site – yes, in only two years they were able to tear down the building just in time for the legislative session and they’re ready to build once the legislature acts. You can make one safe bet: they’ve talked privately with every legislator who will listen. Who knows what they’ve promised or given?
But then, Las Vegas casino owners who’ve played out their home town are ready to battle with Genting for the right to open here as a Miami Worldcenter convention hub is built – the perfect casino combination. And the big hotels on Miami Beach are always ready for casinos.
The gambling juggernaut never rests. While we focus on quality of life and work, casinos have a very direct economic interest in every detail of a 316-page bill that’s working its way down the legislative trail. Lots of amendments are likely. And it will need a companion Senate bill.
So sifting details of a bill that creates a Florida Department of Gaming Control and what would be allowed would be like sifting sand that constantly changes with the tide.
There are, however, two constants.
One, all profits from big casinos would go to out-of-state or out-of-nation owners. While workers got McDonald’s wages, owners would collect golden McNuggets.
The other constant is that Miami, even more than the rest of Florida, has everything to lose from opening doors to mega-casinos and absolutely nothing to gain. Hanging out a mega-casino welcome sign is a lose-lose for us.
Rather than debate the bill’s details, every business, civic, religious, cultural and charitable group in this area ought to be right now, today, telling our legislators that we’re not having anything of a McDonald’s gambling economy when we already have so much more.
A McDonald’s mega-casino is no way to nourish ourselves. It’s just an order to supersize social problems.