Miami votes on gambling ban
Miami Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff is looking to rid the city of gambling – at least on city-owned property.
A measure he introduced last week that passed on first reading would prohibit gambling in all forthcoming leases for city-owned property. The measure is to be reworded and return for a final vote.
If it passes, the ban would affect Virginia Key Beach, Scotty’s Landing in Coconut Grove and Melreese Golf Club near Miami International Airport.
No gambling is permitted in Florida other than that specifically allowed, a ban the city cannot govern, Mr. Sarnoff said. “But what we do govern on a going-forward basis,” he said, “is we can make a policy statement about gambling on city-owned property.”
The ordinance, he said, wouldn’t affect existing city contracts.
Still, he admitted on the dais, he presented the ban as something for commissioners to look into that might need more work before a final vote.
“I just thought it was good for us from a policy standpoint on a moving-forward basis,” he said, “to say ‘on city-owned property we should not afford gambling rights.’”
But the ordinance did in fact need work, said Michelle Spence-Jones, and because it would cover all five commission districts she wasn’t completely comfortable with the intent since she doesn’t want to tie the hands of whoever takes her place after her term ends in November.
“I want to hammer it out,” she said. “I want a certain level of fairness in the process.”
And, agreed Commissioner Frank Carollo, perhaps Mr. Sarnoff should include language that, although still prohibiting gambling, would allow lessees to come back before the commission for gambling approval if necessary.
That would be similar to leases the city already has on eight other properties, said Henry Torre, city director of public facilities and asset management. At the moment, he told commissioners, city leases contain language pertaining to gambling for Bayside Marketplace downtown, Grove Harbour, the Hyatt on the Miami River, ING (Miami Tower), Jungle Island, the Watson Island heliport, Flagstone’s planned project on Watson Island and Grove Bay Investments.
The leases for all of those properties, he said, state that while gambling is not allowed there by Florida, should it become legal, leaseholders have a right to come before the city to seek approval for gambling.
Florida’s entire gambling policy is likely to come under intense review as the legislature convenes next year. The state commissioned a $400,000, three-part study of gambling and residents’ attitudes toward it as a basis for legislative action.
Focus in Miami-Dade County has been on one or more resort casinos of a type Florida does not now allow. The former Miami Herald site and the Omni mall site have been acquired by Malaysian casino giant Genting Group with an eye to casinos. The city’s action last week would not affect those privately owned sites in the city, but state legislative action could.
Part of the study for the state released Tuesday by Spectrum Gaming Group said that gambling expansion in Florida would at best have slight positive economic impact.