Why Tie Chamber Casino Vote To Kids Medicine And More
Written by Michael Lewis on January 12, 2012
By Michael Lewis
Please don’t blame Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce members for voting to aid mega-casinos. They didn’t do it.
In citing support for mega-casinos, the chamber states it "represents more than 400,000 employees of member companies," implying they all agree. Hooey.
It wasn’t these 400,000 who voted for casinos. It wasn’t the 5,000 member companies, either.
In fact, it wasn’t anybody.
The vote came in a directors meeting that Chairman Penny Shaffer noted was a rare closed session, so nobody knows who voted or how it was done.
Of about 50 voting directors, about 40 voted yes, 10 no. That narrows blame to 40, not 400,000.
But even those 40 didn’t vote directly on mega-casinos, despite a chamber note that casinos were hotly debated.
Instead, person or persons unknown shamefully combined in one vote casinos and the chamber’s state aims on truly vital projects, even though a casino resolution was separated from that state wish list when chamber offices emailed a draft.
That draft wish list cited 51 aims as diverse as developing a center for the captive insurance industry, urban job creation, education at all levels, Medicaid reform, Jackson Health System funds, aid for a homeless shelter, opposition to state immigration barriers, aid for transportation and Port of Miami dredging.
A vote against mega-casinos had to also oppose the other 51 aims, many of them vital to individual directors and their businesses. To vote no on the casinos plus other aims, directors had to vote against their best interests.
Remarkably, 20% voted no on everything rather than aid casinos. No doubt other directors didn’t vote against the entire list just to oppose casinos only because the chamber’s casino wishes carry so little weight with legislators, whose votes actually count.
Think how vital 10 directors found it to vote no just to avoid the casino morass.
So casino backing came indirectly via a non-vote on the issue itself — but the public and most chamber members didn’t hear that. Ms. Shaffer told a lunch group of several hundred afterward that the chamber would support mega-casinos.
At chamber lunches, applause comes cheap.
Guests applauded each speaker one by one, each past chairman one by one, each announced guest one by one, new trustees one by one, fundraisers one by one. They applauded speaker Mark Rosenberg. They even applauded absent guest pollster John Zogby, who spoke by Skype.
That audience would have applauded anything.
Anything but casinos, that is.
When Ms. Shaffer revealed that the chamber would back mega-casinos, exactly one person began clapping — but quickly halted when nobody chimed in. Ms. Shaffer remarked on the underwhelming support.
There’d have been more applause if new member and chamber landlord Resorts World Miami, which plans for a mega-casino in the chamber’s building, had sent its troops.
That one clapping person indicates the true backing for mega-casinos among members.
Yet the chamber immediately issued a statement that "A vote from the Chamber’s Board of Directors has approved a resolution conditionally supporting the establishment of Destination Gaming Resorts…"
That’s technically true but totally misleading, because casinos were slipped into a list of 52 items for
Also misleading was a later headline from another Resorts World Miami
tenant, which pays no rent, the Miami Herald: "Casinos would help economy, Chamber says." It’s a very long stretch from a vote by directors on 52 diverse items to that conclusion.
The mega-casino finesse was akin to an announcement several years ago to a roomful of startled members that the chamber had endorsed spending what will hit $3 billion in taxes to build a baseball stadium that hands all revenue to team owners.
But at least there was a separate stadium vote. Casinos were unfairly slipped in with vital issues to back all or none.
Of course, even a separate casinos vote would have been premature.
The pro-casinos resolution sent to directors but never acted on separately was based on a plan that state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff had later altered in more than 30 key ways, including nearly doubling the casino tax rate.
But immediately after the chamber met she again redid her plan, cutting down the rate again. Any final bill will again be heavily revamped.
So the chamber is buying a pig in a poke: an unknown and unseen plan for mega-casinos. Its lobbyists will go to Tallahassee to support a still-unwritten bill that members never saw and nobody ever voted on directly.
So don’t blame the 400,000 workers in 5,000 chamber member companies for the actions of person or persons unknown. They didn’t vote to support the mega-casino bill.