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Oscar Pedro Musibay
Reporter – South Florida Business Journal
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A bill to allow gambling in Miami-Dade County is being drafted in Tallahassee and may be filed this week – setting the stage for powerful gambling interests to vie over whether Florida will open its doors wider to gambling.
The Genting Group, which has invested more than $300 million on property near the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, has hired a group of lobbyists including Carlos Curbelo, who manages a public relations firm and is on the School Board of Miami-Dade County.
The Las Vegas Sands Corp. casino operators are also making an aggressive run, reaching out to make a deal with the owners of an assemblage of parcels south of the Genting site, in an effort to grab a gambling license for themselves and muscle out their competitor, according to the Miami Herald.
The push by Sands (NYSE: LVS) to make its participation exclusive could potentially hedge against Las Vegas losing revenue to Miami gaming. The Las Vegas strip generates $6 billion a year from gaming.
Jessica Hoppe, general counsel and VP of government affairs for Resorts World/Genting, said Genting does not support a monopoly for any single company.
“Genting supports the issuance of up to three destination resort licenses in South Florida, versus a single-license monopoly. Granting multiple licenses benefits consumers and results in greater economic impact,” she said. “Collectively, three destination resorts will create 100,000 new jobs and yield billions of dollars in new direct and indirect revenues for the state and local governments.”
Competition is better for Florida, its economy and its residents, she insists.
“Singapore – where Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands both opened within the same year – proves that multiple destination resorts can co-exist and create strong multiplier effects for the economy,” she said. “When two destination resorts were introduced in Singapore, the country saw 60,000 new direct and indirect jobs, a 41 percent jump in tourist arrivals, a 30 percent jump in airport arrivals and an 80 percent spike in tourism revenues.”
The site the Sands wants was once planned by Art Falcone as a massive mixed-use project called Miami World Center. The project stalled as the real estate meltdown gained momentum and lenders targeted portions of the assemblage for foreclosure.
Nitin Motwani, a partner in the Miami World Center group, told the Herald he had no deal with the Sands group and had been approached by Sands and other operators.
Additionally, Wynn Resorts has hired lobbyists to make the case for gambling, Caesars Entertainment recently opened an office on Brickell Avenue in Miami, and more are sure to come. Daniel Ruiz of Caesars was not available for comment.
State Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, are working to make sure the bills are identical, said one source familiar with the process.
The Business Journal reported in September that the Genting Group is promising to start gambling operations at the Omni International Mall and employ 5,000 people by fall 2012 if the state gives the go-ahead.
The company finalized its purchase of mortgage notes underlying the Omni in downtown Miami, which it plans to retrofit for gaming.
The group described the Omni as “decorator ready.” The 12-acre site includes 650,000 square feet of shopping mall space, 350,000 square feet of office space, a 525-room Hilton hotel and a 2,300-space parking garages.
With Miami-Dade County suffering from a 12.5 percent unemployment rate, Genting appears to be pressuring politicians to clear the way for its gambling operations. Currently, gaming in South Florida has been limited to tribal and pari-mutuel locations.
Genting also plans to incorporate gambling into its proposed $3 billion Resorts World Miami project on 14 acres where the Herald is currently located.
Gov. Rick Scott has been noncommittal about destination resort gambling in the Miami area, but there have been reports that legislators are prepared to file bills.