Miami casino would be bigger than Vegas competitors


Miami casino would be bigger than Vegas competitors

The proposed Genting resort is larger than what Vegas Strip hotels offer gamblers — but the developer says that’s the point.

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BY DOUGLAS HANKS

DHANKS@MIAMIHERALD.COM

Can Miami handle the biggest casino in the world?
That was the question raised Wednesday as local leaders pored over a bill designed to bring three large casino resorts to South Florida, including one by Malaysia’s Genting Group. Genting is the only developer to detail its plans for the Sunshine State, proposing a $3.8 billion waterfront resort that will be larger than any hotel on the Las Vegas Strip and contain four times as much gambling space.
“When you look at the enormous size and scope of some of these projects, it just doesn’t make sense,’’ Phil Goldfarb, president of Fontainebleau Miami Beach, told Miami-Dade commissioners at a hearing on gambling Wednesday. “We’re most concerned about existing businesses.”
The massive scale of Genting’s proposed Resorts World Miami energizes both sides of the gambling debate in South Florida.
Critics see the urban resort scrambling downtown Miami’s ongoing revival and stealing customers from hotels and restaurants from nearby neighborhoods and Miami Beach. Supporters point to tens of thousands of construction jobs needed to build something so large, and the tens of millions in tourist dollars it would generate once open.
“The Genting resort will be a magnet for the city,’’ said Esteban Garcia, owner of Garcia’s Seafood Grille and Fish Market on the Miami River, which Genting says may open a second location at the planned resort. “This kind of resort would bring a lot of new jobs to our community.”
Tony Villamil, an economist hired by Genting, noted the company plans to let guests use casino debit cards at restaurants and other businesses off the Resorts World property. “It’s not a box where you simply put a casino,’’ he said. “It’s tied in and integrated to the rest of community.”
Legislation introduced Wednesday would allow three casino resorts as long as developers spent at least $2 billion to build them.
Genting expects to spend almost twice that amount. The company, Southeast Asia’s largest casino operator, ignited the gambling frenzy in May by paying $236 million for The Miami Herald’s downtown headquarters. Genting agreed to let the Herald remain in the building rent-free for two years, and then began buying up surrounding real estate, including the Omni retail and hotel complex.
Nearby in Miami’s Park West neighborhood, local developers and the Las Vegas Sands casino company reportedly are planning a gambling resort to rival Genting, and other large land owners, including the Fontainebleau, also want their sites considered. But only Genting has drafted renderings for its proposed resort: six undulating towers rising as high as 58 stories with a mix of apartments and hotel rooms, with an outdoor lagoon, artificial beaches, and 50 restaurants throughout the campus.
With 5,200 rooms, the proposed Genting complex would be as large as any hotel in Vegas, according to data available on casinocity.com, a leading industry site. The country’s largest hotel, the MGM Grand, has 5,044 rooms, and Mandalay Bay boasts 4,756.
Two casinos in the Genting complex would dwarf anything offered on the strip. Plans call for a primary casino measuring about 550,000 square feet in a tower on the Herald site, plus an additional 250,000-square-foot casino in a building on the Omni location, said Sergio Bakas, the Arquitectonica architect supervising the design. He said he expected Resorts World Miami to be the largest casino resort in the world if current plans are approved.
The combined 800,000 footprint is large enough to hold the combined casino floors of three of the biggest in Vegas: the Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and the MGM Grand. Current design assumptions call for about 8,500 slot machines, Bakas said, far more than the 2,500 found at the MGM Grand, the largest casino in Vegas. The 50 restaurants Genting plans for the site roughly doubles what is available in the typical Vegas Strip hotel.
“It certainly seems aggressive,’’ said Brian MacGill, managing director for gaming and lodging for Janney Capital Markets in Philadelphia. “If a casino has 15 or 20 restaurants, that’s considered a lot.”
Genting executives point out that with dozens of casino hotels available in Vegas, no single location needs as much gambling space to satisfy visitors. By positioning itself as a self-contained destination, Genting plans to accommodate both hotel guests and tourists from other properties.
But Genting also sees its casino as a step above the Strip, where wealthier gamblers will have more elbow room while trying their luck.
“It’s a bit different from other casinos where other people may have visited, where you’re right next to your neighbor and it’s more of a factory-type feel,’’ said Jessica Hoppe, general counsel for Genting Americas.
Nothing compares to the proposed Genting resort in South Florida. The 1,500-room Fontainebleau Miami Beach, is roughly a third of the size.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the economic committee for the County Commission, Miami Beach leaders warned that mammoth resorts like Genting are bound to siphon off customers from existing hotels and restaurants.
“What is going to happen when those rooms can’t be filled by fat cats?’’ said Jorge Gonzalez, city manager of Miami Beach. “There is a huge threat.”
Brian May, a Sands lobbyist, told commissioners that casino resorts will bring jobs but he warned Miami’s gambling market could be “saturated” by more than one. “Miami should go slow,’’ he said. “You could always do more later if the high end destination model pans out.”

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