Memo to Genting: no free passes when you break the law
Written by Michael Lewis on May 17, 2016
Malaysian steamroller Genting has failed every other way to get OKs for a massive casino in Miami’s downtown, so now it has gone to court seeking to prevent the state attorney and the county from jailing its operators when it opens illegal gambling here.
Nobody said these folks are anything but brazen. They’ve tried but failed for five years to buy enough state legislators to legalize what seemed likely to be the world’s largest casino, so why not do it illegally with court protection?
The incursion started in 2011 when operators of the Miami Herald, whose predecessors once stood as a firm bastion against casinos in Miami, sold out the Herald’s land to Genting for $236 million and bought in Doral a site that they’ve also recently sold.
Genting announced a massive casino resort on its Herald site and showed community leaders how beautiful it would be, promising in the presentation that the resort would not be for locals who would lose their shirt but only the world’s wealthiest, who could afford to lose it.
Then, halfway through the presentation itself, Genting leaders interrupted one another to change course, announcing that they’d just bought the old Omni Mall near the Herald and would immediately make that a special vast casino just for locals even before the new resort casino rose.
But despite having in their pockets hired guns from large law firms and other prominent Miamians, Genting year after year has failed to get the Florida Legislature to buy into its grand vision of a Malaysian firm picking everyone’s pocket, rich and poor alike, and shipping the money abroad.
So Genting decided that if you can’t do it legally, do it illegally. Just get the courts to declare that you can’t be prosecuted and you then can get around state regulators and state law and the police and whoever. That’s the current gambit.
Genting wants to start its gambling right now in just 7,500 square feet of its Omni complex, part of the space where JCPenney once offered bargain purchases. But a Genting victory would be no bargain, and penny is the opposite of what a Genting-style operation would cost the Miami economy in every way.
The complicated Genting gambit boils down to getting control of Gulfstream racetrack’s Broward license for a companion slots parlor, saying that the license actually covers Miami-Dade too, then moving the gambling to leased Omni space while continuing the concurrent horseracing that a slots operation requires at Gulfstream.
State regulators rejected this ploy two years ago and legislators again this year balked at anything that would win Genting its downtown Miami gambling, so the current step is to get the courts to say that’s OK, you can break all the applicable laws and we won’t bother you about it.
Of course, a slots and cards operation in 7,500 square feet would quickly morph into more and more and more. Genting hasn’t spent far more than $300 million on Omni and Herald land just for a small card room with slot machines. Once it had court protection from prosecution, the sky would quickly become the limit that Genting told us five years ago was its aim.
It’s no secret plot – just a plot that the judges ought to waste no time tossing right out of court.
Up until now the Legislature has made our gambling laws. Genting’s owners see that our system of lawmaking isn’t working the way they want, so they’re asking the courts to make new laws just for them in a declaratory judgment that whatever laws they break, they won’t be penalized.
The fact that breaking some of those laws is a felony isn’t going to get in Genting’s way. The company is powerful and accustomed to buying whatever it wants, including land from a newspaper that got a bonus $8 million long after the deal closed. Is that buying land, or land and the press too?
The purported reason for the suit, it says, is that “Omni is in doubt as to its rights and seeks a declaration that the transactions and activities contemplated under the Omni Lease are lawful and the conduct of same shall not expose Omni to criminal liability…”
We’ll save the court the time and cost to reply, because Omni and its Genting owners need have no doubt whatsoever. Breaking the law is in fact breaking the law, and in this country we still prosecute lawbreakers.
That includes steamrolling operators of illegal gambling.