South Florida needs destination resorts
Done right, high-end casinos a win-win
BY CARLOS CURBELO
Earlier this year when I was invited to join an effort in support of legislation authorizing destination resorts in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, it was easy to acquiesce. I have always been a proponent of common-sense gaming reform that considers the will of voters as expressed through elections, eliminates monopolies, mitigates the hazards of gaming and promotes strong competition within the industry; thus ensuring the greatest possible benefit for our state.
The debate over gaming has been long over. For over a decade Floridians have been able to wager in some form or another. There is the Florida Lottery. We have dog tracks and horse tracks with slot machines, cruises to somewhere, cruises to nowhere, Indian casinos with table games and, of course, the Internet where Floridians can bet on almost anything at any time. Some municipalities have even made the unwise decision of sanctioning gray market video lottery machines or “maquinitas” that cynically claim to be games of skill. Clearly, there is no shortage of gaming options.
The unfortunate part of all of this is that the benefit to the state and to our communities is minimal compared to what it could be. Most of our existing gaming facilities appeal to locals — in most cases low- and middle-income individuals for whom gambling is truly a high-risk proposition. A small number of these people get themselves into trouble requiring the rest of us to bail them out. That is the nature of this kind of activity. The same thing happens when people drink too much, smoke, recklessly play the stock market, or buy way more than what they can afford.
If it is worth having any kind of gaming option, it is that which is accompanied by integrated destination resorts — massive, iconic facilities that attract tourists from all over the world, major conventions, and yes, wealthy foreign and interstate gamblers. Authorizing a limited number of highly regulated destination resorts in counties where voters have already twice approved Class 3 gaming (Miami-Dade and Broward) would result in a major boom for local and state economies, creating tens of thousands of construction jobs almost immediately and as many as 100,000 direct and indirect jobs once the facilities are operating. In fact, failing to take this important step at this time makes little sense considering the circumstances.
Remember, like it or not, gaming is here to stay. This would only ensure that our community and our state extract the maximum benefit possible from this activity. Rep. Erik Fresen and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff deserve praise for having the courage to take on what will certainly be a challenging issue in Tallahassee.
I certainly respect and understand those who have moral objections to gaming. It is true that there are hazards involved. However, we are already experiencing the effects of those hazards while missing out on major benefits including: a multibillion dollar investment in our state, tens of thousands of new jobs for Floridians desperate to get back to work, and significant increases in tourism and in our depleted tax base. Maybe we can even replenish our battered education budget. More important, voters in Miami-Dade and Broward have already spoken through our democratic system. This is a unique opportunity for Republicans and Democrats in Tallahassee to stimulate our economy without using a single tax dollar.
And if we do move forward, it should be in such a way that is consistent with the values, culture, and aesthetics of our state. My sense is that Floridians do not want a Las Vegas-style strip. We do not want a replica of the Eiffel tower or a Roman palace, and it would be reckless to award any company a monopoly in a major population center such as Miami-Dade County. Competition is always desirable.
The gaming elements of these properties should be discrete and not their focal points so that families with children can feel welcomed and comfortable in the resorts. Our legislators should authorize a limited number of destination resort licenses in the jurisdictions that have already approved commercial casinos and encourage developments that reflect the unique cultural characteristics of our area.
Carlos Curbelo manages a public-relations firm and is affiliated with the Genting Group, which recently purchased The Miami Herald’s downtown property from The McClatchy Co. He also serves on the Miami-Dade School Board.