County in bed with casino giant Genting, sells out cheap
Written by Michael Lewis on April 25, 2017
County commissioners sold out the area around the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts to one of the globe’s biggest casino operators last week and knew exactly what they were doing.
To fund a small sliver of a vast mass transit upgrade, they took from Malaysian giant Genting a free bus station and $10 million up front plus long-term rent in return for partnering with Genting, which has touted what was going to be the world’s largest casino on our bayfront.
And you think native Americans were duped when they allegedly got $24 in beads for Manhattan!
Commissioners took turns patting themselves, county staff and their new Genting partners on the back for the wonderful, wonderful deal. Which proves that Genting will certainly succeed once gambling opens: there are so many suckers to fleece.
And while the commissioners initially tried to talk only about getting a better bus depot and a payment in return for use of the air rights above for a 300-room hotel with never a mention of who their real partners are or what they plan, eventually some of them dropped the pretense of this being any normal deal the county has ever made.
Of course it’s not at all normal. The county is in a 50/50 partnership for retail on the ground floor of the building with Genting, plus a 90-year lease of the air rights. The more money people lose gambling, the more money the county will get – though it will be a pittance of the costs to this community as it eventually finds government in the position of partnering with a firm that wants wide-open gambling in Miami’s cultural heart.
Genting clearly will leverage its county partnership to build support for changes in state law to allow the now-illegal casino.
Genting bought the old Miami Herald site for $236 million for its casino resort and by contract paid off the last $8 million only after years of being able to count on the Herald to not get in its way in seeking state gambling approval. That ploy didn’t win only because the rest of Florida wasn’t playing to legalize full casinos here.
Now it’s the same thing, but for a lot less money: the county has been bought off for $26 million plus some profit-sharing or rent for the next 90 years in return for not only the county’s air rights to build but the county as – from Genting’s perspective – a partner or at worst a neutralized government as gambling interests seek state approvals for a casino downtown.
For Genting to open a casino over the bus terminal it’s building – it’s planning all the casino space right above the terminal, topped by hotel rooms – it would need a county OK as landlord once it gets a state gambling OK or moves forward without approval. Now the county landlord is on its payroll.
In fact, it was exactly one year ago today that Genting asked the 11th Judicial Circuit Court for a declaration that if it brought gambling to the area where the bus terminal-hotel-future casino is to rise there’d be no criminal penalties even if gambling was illegal. That declaration has yet to come, but Genting is rolling the dice with the county.
What is hailed as a wonderful deal is anything but. It opens the doors to every negative social consequence of a vast gambling operation that even Genting acknowledged when it announced that it would build a massive casino resort where the Herald building then stood. Genting executives promised the resort would cater only to outside high rollers because gambling would destroy the community if locals played.
But then Genting bought the old Omni mall and pledged to make it another casino – just for the locals. Presumably social ills wouldn’t penetrate the Omni’s walls.
Now Genting is to build adjacent to the Omni and west of the old Herald just a hotel with enough room for a casino. Put it all together and all three sites are in play.
At least Commissioner Joe Martinez was honest about what commissioners were actually doing when they put the county into a profit-sharing partnership with Genting.
“I am willing to live with a casino there, because it will be coming,” the former county policeman told fellow commissioners last week. “And I am willing to live with other issues that will be coming…. This is an awesome deal as long as you know everything that can come and you can live with it.” When people in a year or two say they are shocked by what the deal brings, he said, “know it today…. This deal is really, really good. I’m just curious to see what’s going to happen in a couple of years. But we’ll find out. Stay tuned.”
For a preview of what’s coming, take a look at what happened in Atlantic City, NJ, where casino gambling was going to save a sinking city. With gambling’s help, it sank.
All the commissioners should have known that by taking Genting for a partner they were complicit in aiding gambling. When Daniella Levine Cava asked the others if they would require in their legislation a super-majority vote to bring a casino to the bus depot site once the state legalizes it, nobody would join her. They’re already Genting partners.
Bruno Barreiro made it clear: don’t try to prohibit a casino on the site, just ask for a cut of Genting’s gambling take. “If they’re going to make money, we want our transit system to be subsidized or they’ll help subsidize our ridership. There’s no reason why not to.”
Of course, as attorney Manny Prieguez, who represents Magic City Casino, then told the commission, there is good reason not to: the county already gets 2.5% of the gross of every pari-mutuel gaming site in the county, with an agreement that he said would probably outlaw a side deal with Genting.
But as Audrey Edmonson, the commission front person for Genting who drove the deal, told her colleagues, “You have to give a little to take a little… It’s a good project…. We’re getting everything ahead.”
That “everything” is a $16 million bus terminal with air conditioning for passengers and drivers and $10 million up front in cash.
If you’re going to sell out your community’s future, commissioners, you sold way too cheap. The Herald, after all, got $236 million, with $228 million of it up front.
Oh, the county got one more thing: Genting attorney Al Dotson Jr. pointed out that the gambling giant will close Northeast 14th Terrace and it’s going to give the county half of our own street absolutely free. What a deal!