Florida gambling bill could be filed this week
South Florida Business Journal, Oscar Pedro Musibay:
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 Miamiproject 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.
Scott met with Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson after his election in November, but rebutted reports that said he was in favor of casino gambling. The meeting was just a stop on the way to the Republican Governors Association meeting in San Diego, he said.
Miami State Rep. Erik Fresen who will shortly unveil a legislative proposal to bring casino gambling to South Florida, told the Clarion he favors vigorous scrutiny of applicants for the three casino licenses in Miami-Dade or Broward County that his bill anticipates.
Rep. Erik Fresen
“If Florida is going to have casinos we must have a regulatory scheme which guarantees honesty, integrity, and stability of the operators and that means intense scrutiny of applicants, extensive background checks and total transparency,” Fresen told the Clarion.
The Miami Republican lawmaker is said to be studying the New Jersey and Nevada Casino control laws, considered the toughest in the country. Under both state laws an applicant’s “suitability” is assessed as well as its associations, financial stability, and background.
The adoption of similar rules in Florida could be problematic for Las Vegas Sands Corporation and the company’s boss Sheldon Adelson. The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Las Vegas Sands Corp. said it’s being investigated by U.S. authorities over its compliance with federal anti-bribery laws in its operations in Macau, which has become a cornerstone of the casino company’s business and the gambling industry’s major source of growth.
In its annual report filed in March, Sands said it had received a subpoena from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission requesting that the company produce documents related to its compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and that the Justice Department “is conducting a similar investigation.” The law prohibits U.S. companies from making payments to foreign officials for official acts. No charges have been filed against Adelson or the Sands but the investigation is on-going.
Steven Jacobs, a former Sands executive fired from the company by CEO Sheldon Adelson for his refusal to deal with junket operators affiliated with the Triad Chinese organized crime organization has told US law enforcement officials that Adelson bribed officials in Macao to expedite approval for condominiums being built in conjunction the Sands Macao Casino.
Genting, the Asian Gambling giant that bought the Miami Herald site in downtown Miami would also face scrutiny if their plans for Miami World Resort at that location moved forward. Genting is currently licensed to operate slot machines by the state of New York at the Aqueduct Race track in New York City.
Genting is also regulated in Singapore by the Gaming, Inspection and Coordination Bureau which reports directly to the Secretary for Economic and Finance. Genting does not hold a gaming license in Nevada or New Jersey. Genting executives told the Clarion they expect rigorous regulation in Florida and are confident they would be licensed. Genting has paid some large fines in Singapore for compliance issues.
Licensing could also be problematic for Boca developer Art Falcone, who seeks to attract a casino developer to his site in downtown Miami only blocks from the Miami Herald site. The details of Falcone’s personal bankruptcy, where he allegedly moved assets to his wife and children to avoid debts and the circumstances under which he reclaimed properties out of foreclosure are certain to be examined.
At least one shareholder of First Third Bank of Ohio is contemplating a law-suit claiming the bank was defrauded by Falcone. The Miami Herald reported recently that Falcone and his partner Nitan Motwani are in discussions with the Las Vegas Sands