Las Vegas casinos pitch plan for Florida

Las Vegas casinos pitch plan for Florida
By Mary Ellen Klas, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
In Print: Wednesday, January 26, 2011

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TALLAHASSEE — Two of Las Vegas’ largest casino operators made the case Tuesday for why Florida should consider “destination casino resorts” as the next-best hope for jobs and economic development.

Andy Abboud of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Michael Britt of Wynn Casinos presented a glossy slideshow of their properties to members of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee. Tom McPherson of Boyd Gaming Corp., which owns Dania Jai Alai, urged the committee to keep an open mind and not pick and choose who can compete to build the resort casinos.

“We’re very anxious to get to market,” Abboud said. “If you were able to pass legislation this year, we could be up and running in maybe 4½ years,” he said.

The Las Vegas Sands has been on a two-year crusade to bring its resort-style casinos and convention space to Miami.

Miami is “underserved by convention and trade show space,” Abboud said, but added “we’re open to the entire state.”

Under the proposal being pushed by Sands, the state would allow for exclusive operation of five casinos within a 75-mile radius. Voters in each of the regions would have to approve the casino and then a five-member commission would choose which casino operator gets the bid. The casinos would pay a $50 million application fee and be taxed at a rate lower than the state’s parimutuels, which now pay 35 percent of their earnings.

Abboud told the committee, “We clearly understand the politics of this state and, to be perfectly honest, we know we have to be financially more attractive than what is here today.”

Meanwhile, the players are staffing up to influence lawmakers to pass the bill. Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, the chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, will sponsor the Senate bill. Rep. Steve Bovo, R-Hialeah, has been asked to sponsor the House bill.

The Sands has hired six lobbyists and paid an undisclosed amount to become a member of Associated Industries of Florida, whose president Barney Bishop is now lobbying on behalf of destination gambling resorts.

Wynn Casinos has hired Al Cardenas and two members of his lobbying team, including Lanny Wiles, a former aide to Gov. Rick Scott.

Genting Berhad, the growing Malaysian casino giant, is in negotiations to hire a lobbyist who works with another Scott aide, Chris Kise.

Dan Adkins, president of Hartman & Tyner, which owns Mardi Gras Racing and Casinos, argues that legislators should allow the existing parimutuels to offer casino games and doubts the measure will pass this session. “This is a heavy, heavy lift,” he said.

Jones’ bill has the support of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who is running for U.S. Senate in 2012.

Barry Hornbein, a lobbyist for the Seminole Tribe, shook his head in dismay at the proposal. “The ink is not even dry on the compact and they’re talking about this,” he said. “There’s campaign races to come in a couple years and Vegas is a great place to get (campaign cash.)”

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