Civic groups plan independent casino gambling forums
By Scott Blake
Three of Miami's leading civic organizations will allow the public to weigh in on controversial proposals and legislation aimed at creating a large-scale casino industry in South Florida.
The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce plans to host a public discussion of the issue titled "Destination gaming: Is it in the cards?" at the Jungle Island Ballroom on Nov. 7.
The Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce plans to host a similar meeting Dec. 13. The site has yet to be determined.
In addition, the Miami-Dade Beacon Council plans to host a forum on the issue in late November or early December at the council's Brickell area offices on Southwest Eighth Street. The location may be moved to a larger venue, depending on the level of public interest.
Organizers of all three events say they want to give elected officials, business leaders and others in the community a chance to discuss the pros and cons of permitting the so-called "destination casinos," as state lawmakers ponder related bills for the next legislative session in January.
"This will be an opportunity for our members and others to ask questions," said Barry Johnson, CEO and president of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Johnson said the chamber's forum will probably consist of a panel discussion with a question-and-answer period. The chamber has invited state Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican, among others, to speak on the issue.
Under twin preliminary bills by Rep. Fresen and state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, up to three resorts casinos valued at a minimum of $2.5 billion each would be permitted in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The proposals also call for the creation of a state gaming commission.
Malaysia-based Genting Group's proposal to build a $3 billion-plus resort with two casinos at the current site of the Miami Herald and the nearby Omni Center has been the most visible. But other groups reportedly have floated casino ideas for other locations in South Florida, from Downtown Miami and Sunny Isles Beach to Miami Dolphins Stadium and the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Representatives for Las Vegas Sands were scheduled to meet Tuesday with Miami Today to discuss their plans for a possible casino resort in Downtown Miami. However, the company canceled the meeting, saying it did not want to talk about plans before any casino-related legislation is officially filed and released in Tallahassee.
Mr. Johnson said he thinks the Greater Miami Chamber eventually will take a position on such legislation. The chamber's offices are in the Omni Center, which is now under the control of Genting. Mr. Johnson said the chamber's lease there expires in 2014, and it is yet to be decided whether the chamber will remain there.
Already, the statewide Florida Chamber of Commerce has taken a stance against casino gambling in South Florida. Chamber President Mark Wilson recently reaffirmed the chamber's longtime position against expanding casino gambling in the state.
The Miami Beach Chamber, meanwhile, has contacted City of Miami Beach officials about co-hosting a December public forum on the issue, said Aaron Perry, the chamber's senior vice chairman and immediate past chairman.
"I was asked by the chamber to chair a committee on gaming and speak to Miami Beach leaders to get a take on where they are on the issue," Mr. Perry said.
The public will be invited to the Miami Beach forum. "We want to make Rep. Fresen and other leaders available to speak to the people there to answer their questions and tell us where they are at [with proposals] in Tallahassee," Mr. Perry said.
"The prime objective is to separate fact from fiction" regarding resort casinos, he added.
The Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's economic development agency, plans to invite "experts from both sides of the issue" to discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks of resort casinos.
Alan Becker, the council's newly named chairman, said he does not think the council should take a position on the issue, but rather facilitate a public discussion and question-and-answer session to vet information about it.
However, some of the council's leadership already has expressed varying opinions on the matter. Council CEO and President Frank Nero has called for an independent task force to study the economic and social impacts of resort casinos over a period of six to 12 months before state or local officials make any decisions on proposals.
On the other hand, Jack Lowell, the council's outgoing chairman, has expressed support for the casino proposals after visiting two of Genting's resorts in East Asia.
"I'll have wait until the mega casinos get here," Mr. Lowell joked at the council's annual meeting Friday, "so I can start gambling something significant."
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