Miami-Dade mayor seeks lower pari-mutuel taxes
By Ashley Hopkins
Mayor Carlos Gimenez is showing support for the state's push to bring destination resort casinos to Miami-Dade, saying he thinks the county should have a say in gambling regulations if or when casino projects move forward.
Mr. Gimenez said in an interview he intends to push for a lower tax rate for pari-mutuels in hopes of bringing a world-class convention center to the area to increase tourism to the county.
At last month's county Economic Development & Social Services Committee meeting, Isadore Havenick, whose family owns Magic City Casino, 450 NW 37th Ave., and who said he was representing as well Calder Casino & Race Course, 21001 NW 27th Ave., Miami Gardens, and a casino planned for Hialeah Park, said that while "it would be hypocritical" to speak against other forms of gambling in Miami-Dade, he would like all gambling centers to face similar tax rates and regulations.
If the legislature approves the bill, said an official with the county attorney's office, resort casinos would be permitted to operate and sell alcohol 24 hours a day. Resort casinos would face a 10% state tax on gross receipts, while pari-mutuels would continue to fork out 35%.
Mr. Gimenez said he supported the pari-mutuels' call for balanced regulations.
"If the gaming bill passes, a companion bill granting parody to the pari-mutuels should also be passed," he said, adding that the bill's passing is "an if with a capital I.F."
While the commission agreed that all gaming institutions should work under similar rules and regulations, at the October meeting several commissioners were concerned that the state bill would prevent cities and counties from regulating gambling at destination resorts.
Mr. Gimenez said that, if approved, the county should assume more control than the commission thinks, as commissioners would have to approve licenses needed to move the casinos forward.
"If this bill passes, whoever desires a license, before they go to the gaming commission, has to have the conceptual approval of both the city and the county," he said. "I take that to mean conceptual in the broadest sense."
Mr. Gimenez said that while he doesn't know if safeguards written into the state bill will protect the county if casinos move forward, he plans to address the issue to ensure that residents' needs don't fall by the wayside.
"I don't know if that's sufficient to protect our interests if it is good," he said, "and if it's not, then it has to be enhanced, because the interests of the people of the city and the county have to be protected."
While in support of the project, at the October meeting Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower said she hoped the county commission wouldn't neglect the city's long-sought convention center upgrade in light of future casino plans.
Miami Beach is working to procure $648.2 million to expand the center, 1901 Convention Center Dr., by 1 million square feet, doubling meeting space, lobby space and service space.
In the meantime, the Malaysia-based Genting Group is pushing a $3 billion casino resort called Resorts World Miami on Biscayne Bay, at the west end of the MacArthur Causeway, that is to have 700,000 square feet of convention and meeting space. Las Vegas Sands Corp. is planning even more meeting space.
While Jorge Gonzalez, Miami Beach city manager, asked that the commission consider how the casino complex could affect both the convention center and area businesses, Mr. Gimenez said he thinks the casinos could help the Miami Beach convention center project come to fruition as private capital flows to the area.
"We may be able to get a world-class convention center that this community desperately needs," he said. It will "lead to more tourists, more jobs, more demand for more hotels rooms, which is good for the economy."
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