Jai-alai in Edgewater would lead to casino complex in Omni
Written by Michael Lewis on July 24, 2018
Few are saying so, but civic leaders’ objections to a gambling incursion on downtown’s north edge must be more about what will follow than about a tawdry jai-alai fronton and poker parlor.
Those bringing gambling to newly burgeoning Edgewater are well-known local families who nonetheless are wrong to put gambling in any form on Biscayne Boulevard. It’s logical and correct to say, as leaders are, “there goes the neighborhood.”
The far larger threat, however, is that an Edgewater gambling blight would open the road for global gambling giant Genting to gain entrance with full-fledged casinos around the county’s Arsht Center for the Performing Arts 15 blocks south.
To refresh memories, a few years back Genting bought out the Miami Herald’s headquarters to build the world’s largest casino complex there and then added the adjacent Omni Mall properties for a second casino targeted just to local residents. All of that was predicated on the state legislature opening the doors to casinos; Genting has been pushing hard behind the scenes for that ever since.
Meanwhile, well below the radar, Genting has cut a deal to upgrade a Miami-Dade County bus terminal next door to the Omni Mall in exchange for Genting building a large hotel above it with vast open spaces that have been termed meeting areas – but would be perfect for floors of casinos. The county tells Miami Today that work on that project is about to begin.
Roll all that expensive real estate in with space that Genting controls nearby for dormitories for international gambling workers and you have a very large investment even by the standards of the Malaysian juggernaut, which operates major casinos around the globe.
And while it’s useful to the community that Genting is now renting tented space where the Herald used to stand to Art Miami and other temporary users, Genting didn’t pay Herald owners $236 million for the land and millions more to demolish the building in order to accumulate vacant waterfront. The gambling resort’s towers there are now planned. The company has marina permits at the site too, all part of the plan.
All of this investment waiting in the wings to turn Miami into a casino city might be welcomed in communities with dying downtowns and economies to match. Miami, however, is booming with, by and large, the right kinds of development to build a global metropolis with long-term promise for Miami’s citizenry.
Casinos with cheap imported labor in dorms and all of gambling’s associated problems of crime, drugs, prostitution and social disorders that are almost universally related to big-time casinos – look at dying Atlantic City as example number one, troubled Las Vegas as example two – would drive out the high-income Northeastern executive families and international investors whose welcome arrivals have been fueling our growth.
No doubt Genting would parlay a relatively insignificant poker room and jai-alai betting in a project to be built by Russell Galbut and his Crescent Heights into winning a state OK for a community-shaking casino complex in what would be the worst possible location for this city, right in the heart of it all.
We don’t accuse would-be operator Isadore Havenick of purposefully serving as Genting’s water boy, but that would be the result.
We agree with civic leaders that by the owners of the Magic City Casino opening up gambling at 3030 Biscayne Blvd. they would be debasing a rising neighborhood.
Look at the poor people whose pockets are emptied in the company’s present casino, people who by and large can’t afford to lose and whose presence in Edgewater would definitely not be an asset to the rapidly rising neighborhood.
Even though the new Edgewater site, which now has won state approval, wouldn’t have slot machines at its outset, gambling tends to expand in all directions – including into more gaming modes.
There is, after all, only one reason to offer gambling: it is highly profitable. The more money lost by customers, the more money made by operators. And the more kinds of gambling, the more money lost.
We are pro growth of business, but not of that sort. Not in Miami. Certainly not in Edgewater. And never in the Omni area, which would come next.
All that stands in the way of this operation is whatever city and county permits might apply to building a jai-alai fronton in Edgewater and whatever neighbors and leaders can do to dissuade property owner and developer Crescent Heights from building it. Maybe they can find Mr. Galbut a more suitable tenant.
Civic leaders who are trying to save us by whatever legal means from this next incursion – which would be followed no doubt by the Genting invasion – are on an honorable track.