The Miami Dolphins and Miami Beach may be angling for casinos if Florida expands gambling.
Arsht Center: Gambling resort needs to up the ante
BY DOUGLAS HANKS
The Miami Dolphins may want the land surrounding their football stadium to be considered for a casino license, and have dispatched a lobbyist to preserve that option should Florida lawmakers approve a landmark expansion of gambling.
Also on Friday, the Miami Beach Convention Center emerged as a potential casino site. City and county officials said developers looking for ways to snag coveted gambling licenses have floated the idea of razing the complex and remaking it as a modern convention center combined with a casino resort.
“That has been talked about. People have said maybe this is a place to put” a casino, Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower said. “To me, this is a distraction from the real job of getting a new convention center.”
Both sites bring extensive complications. The National Football League prohibits any ties to gambling, while Miami Beach, which owns the convention center, has a policy opposing gambling. For years, the city has been exploring a major overhaul of the convention center that would include a hotel.
Despite the obstacles, the addition of two new potential casino locations — joining land near the Donald Trump hotels and condo towers in Sunny Isles Beach, Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Miami Herald headquarters in Miami and an area in Miami’s Park West neighborhood — shows just how quickly the notion of gambling has scrambled South Florida’s real estate ambitions.
The Dolphins team itself couldn’t own or operate a casino because of the NFL rules. But holding companies tied to the team and its majority owner, Stephen Ross, own large tracts of land around the stadium, just south of the Broward-Dade line. Ross has always envisioned the area as an entertainment destination beyond sports, and last year announced plans for a 20-acre water park across from Sun Life Stadium.
Should the Dolphins succeed in making its land eligible for a casino license, Ross could sell or lease the land and enjoy the profits as well as spillover traffic and spending from gamblers traveling to a casino owned by someone else.
State Rep. Erik Fresen, the Miami legislator drafting a bill that would grant South Florida licenses for three casino resorts, said he has met with Dolphins lobbyist Ron Book on the matter. He described the Dolphins as “interested” in casinos and wanting to protect the team’s interest in case Florida approves large gambling resorts.
“I think they may have some interest, and may be petitioning for a license,’’ he said in an interview Friday at a Coral Gables luncheon of the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s economic development agency.
In a statement, the Dolphins emphasized the team itself would not pursue a casino. But the team also suggested it wanted to preserve its site as a player in the gambling debate.
The three-paragraph statement stated: “NFL regulations prohibit any direct involvement by the team and/or its owners in the operation of a gaming facility so neither Steve Ross or the Dolphins have any plans to enter the casino business.
“As it pertains to the pending legislation on this matter in Tallahassee, we support all measures that add value and job growth to our local and state economy.
“We have engaged our lobbyist, Ron Book, to represent our interest in Tallahassee on this matter to ensure that — should the legislation be passed and opportunities arise — Miami Gardens is positioned to compete for casino operators who may have an interest in a North Dade location, an area that is certainly in dire need of pursuing new economic development opportunities.”
Book said Friday that the more than 100 acres around the stadium are “ready to go” for a casino resort, and that gambling companies would be interested in operating there. He said it was his responsibility to protect the Dolphins’ interest in the real estate the team owns, even if the team itself couldn’t open a casino.
“Ron Book, who works for the Dolphins, is trying to make sure that if a bill does pass, my client has a property that is available for some sort of destination facility,” Book said. The gambling industry refers to large casino hotels as “destination resorts.”
Book added: “There are lot of people in the casino business that will see the value of a property that is ready to go. Those same people in the casino industry will see the value in the entertainment possibilities that stadium offers.”
It’s not known if a developer or casino company is focusing on the Miami Beach site. The idea of a casino there was first floated in April by mayoral candidate Steve Berke, a comedian and former reality star.
Though barely a notion at the start of 2011, casino gambling rocketed to the top of the state legislative agenda in May when Southeast Asia’s largest casino operator, Genting Group, paid $236 million for The Miami Herald site on the Miami waterfront. It later announced plans to build what could be the largest casino in the world, promising tens of thousands of jobs and a tourist attraction like nothing South Florida has ever seen.
Critics see the push as a dangerous turning point for Miami at a time when the city’s urban core is emerging as a popular dining and arts district. They warn a Genting casino and one Sands from Las Vegas wants in nearby Park West would bring a long list of woes, from sucking customers from existing businesses to paralyzing traffic.
But as hinted in the Dolphins’ statement, supporters point to new employment for a beleaguered economy.
In his remarks at the Beacon Council lunch, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez touted casinos’ ability to bring “viable job creation” to a county where unemployment sits at above 11 percent.
Dolphins CEO Mike Dee declined to be interviewed on the casino matter. His office released the statement Friday after Fresen made his comments.
Fresen said he did not know if the Dolphins would pursue a casino, and that the team mostly wanted to monitor the legislation. He said he expected to file his much-anticipated bill as early as Monday.