We again need unity to bar casino perils from Miami-Dade
Whenever our economy slides, would-be casino owners look to Miami for a free lunch. All that keeps them from the lunch table is state law that bans casinos here and the integrity of enough lawmakers to keep the important barrier intact.
As post-pandemic business swings back to normal, casino interests have their knives and forks out with hope of swaying Florida to provide a free banquet in which casinos could open and the community would pay big bills and get hungrier.
In the current legislative session a massive gambling deal is shaping up to resolve issues with the Seminole Tribe over current gambling while allowing one or more major casinos in Miami-Dade County.
Three major players aim to change law so they could open casinos and neither Miami-Dade nor city governments could bar them.
One is Genting, the Malaysian giant that a decade ago bought the Miami Herald site on Biscayne Bay and announced the world’s largest casino to cater to global high-rollers. Genting also touted a casino in the adjacent Omni Mall to capture a stream of revenue from purely local gamblers.
Another big player is real estate family member Jeffrey Soffer, who owns the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach, which he bought and renovated to await casino use when laws change. As tourism stumbles in the Covid-19 era, he has lobbied state leaders to change the law so he could run a casino that the City of Miami Beach could not block. The city, knowing that casinos would injure the community in multiple ways, has long opposed the idea.
Finally, the Trump family, which is bleeding money at the Trump Doral golf resort among other losing investments, sees a big banquet in converting the place to a casino. While Donald Trump’s casino foray into Atlantic City decades ago was a bust, he’s ready to roll the dice again with help from the state, which is run by a Republican governor, House and Senate.
Gambling in Florida has not hitherto been a party issue. Most legislators have opposed casinos for many of the right reasons: disruption of their communities, huge increase in social services needs and costs, added policing cost, rises in crime and drug use, and death of many existing retail stores, restaurants and hotels as casinos rake in all the economic chips.
Today, Miami has another vital reason to battle against any casino incursion: we are riding a wave of business growth based on an entirely different type of community.
We have been moving rapidly to create a business ecosystem based far more on tech, creative arts, financial industries and an educated workforce, with a lifestyle conducive to a suitable high-end tourism. In this we have succeeded, luring whole businesses and operations from high-tax states in the Northeast, the Midwest and California. Staggering numbers are multiplying fast.
At the same time, people who can work from home or anywhere on the globe are flowing in to do brain-based work while enjoying a lifestyle that their former areas could not match – and doing it in a low-tax environment.
Helping to spur those major gains, we have built an arts community of national and global renown. Art Basel and our performance venues were the catalysts, but the growth of all forms of arts is spreading widely here now.
Those gains would wither in a gambling-oriented city like Las Vegas or Atlantic City, our antithesis. Why would we do a 180-degree turn when what business, civic and local government leaders have been striving for actually works here?
Casino interests are pushing hard, but with the state receiving a $10 billion federal stimulus we shouldn’t hunger for crumbs from gambling at the expense of gains we are already achieving.
Granted, we still have plenty of community problems to solve, but casinos don’t build workforce housing or fund schools or unclog traffic or improve government leadership. They would just exacerbate our problems while whittling away our mounting economic and societal gains.
Why are prices of residences soaring today? Surely not because well-to-do people are flocking here and bringing businesses with them in hopes we’ll get casinos.
It’s no coincidence that business leaders in Doral, government leaders in Miami Beach and arts leaders in the Omni area – all casino targets – vocally oppose casinos.
Nor is it coincidence that most state lawmakers who favor casinos in Miami-Dade live far away. They would spend state taxes from casinos but wouldn’t face the problems we would.
To put it bluntly, casinos want to eat our lunch and they’re planning the feast in Tallahassee today. If we ever legalized them, they’d be eating it forever because we could never get rid of them.
As we must do each time the clouds of casino climate change form, our local government, civic and business leaders need to unify and loudly tell Tallahassee that in Miami, casino lunch is emphatically not being served.