The decision by Genting, an Asian Casino giant with casinos in Malaysia and Singapore, to plunk down $263 million for a prime downtown Miami site owned by the Miami Herald Company signals that the fight to bring full-fledged casino gambling to Florida has just begun.
A resort destination bill put forward by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and a similar bill put forward by the Sands competitors including Steve Wynn, Caesars World, Genting and a host of South Florida Pari-mutuels both failed to gain traction in the Florida State Senate despite tacit approval of some in the Senate leadership. That does not mean the fight is by any means over.
In a stunning act of chutzpah, Genting Boss KT Lim, who does not hold a casino liscense in the United States, announced that hot architectural firm Arquitectonica would design a $3 billon downtown casino resort, assuming that casino gambling will come to the Sunshine State.
Florida, with its tourist industry, is still the brass ring for the Nevada-based casino industry. Indeed, polls show sharply increased support for legalized casino gaming in just the last four years. Perhaps this is hastened by the opening of world-class casino facilities by the Seminoles Indians, who pay the state of Florida among the lowest percent of revenues of any state that allows casino gaming under a disadvantageous deal negotiated by Governor Charlie Crist and his Sancho Panza George LeMieux.
The Seminoles passed more than $1 million to the Republican Party of Florida during negotiations, $350,000 of which ended up in the pockets of “pro-bono” negotiator LeMieux, passed to the lawyer through a corporation that does not bear his name.
While Governor Rick Scott and Senate President Mike Haridopolos have both signaled that any casino gaming expansion will require a county referendum of approval, that referendum need not be held at a regularly scheduled election. Thus a bill requiring a vote of the people in the county where a casino is to be located could mandate that vote anytime in 2012 or 2013.
The Seminoles’ compact for revenue for table games expires in three years while their compact for slot revenues continues for a much longer period. Florida’s future budget shortfalls will be a key factor in whether casino gambling is approved in the Sunshine State, as even the most conservative Republicans prefer casinos to tax increases or further education cuts.
The drive to legalize casino gambling in the 2013 legislative session could be hurt by revelations that at least one casino company flew several Republican legislators to Las Vegas for an all-expense paid “fact finding” trip that included booze, food, hotel suites and revelry.
Miami-Dade and Broward dog tracks, horse tracks and Jai Alai, who got slot machines in a 2006 constitutional amendment passed by voters, will demand the same table games extended to any new casinos. Then there is a lawsuit pending that would have the effect of limiting slot machines to these pari-mutuel facilities only based on the wording of the amendment.
Genting has taken a huge cash risk. It is not at all certain they can be licensed in Florida if the state adopts a regulatory scheme similar to Nevada or New Jersey. Among other, Genting has run into problems with regulators in Singapore where they hold lucrative Casino concession. And Genting’s dealings with the Seneca Tribe of upstate New York and the Mashantucket Pequots of Connecticut could also come under scrutiny for irregularities.
Expect all the other casino suitors to hire lobbyists again for the bruising fight ahead. Las Vegas Casino powerhouse Steve Wynn will use former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Al Cardenas as his man in Tallahassee again. Genting is using Foley and Lardner, which boasts strong ties to Governor Rick Scott. Legendary Las Vegas Casino Mogul Phil Ruffin has the powerhouse firm of lawyer Howard Weiss, which includes former Senator Ken Pruitt.