By Javier Manjarres
The controversial Destination Florida casino gaming bill will one of the hot issues debated during the 2012 Florida Legislative session this coming January. The two co-sponsors of this bill, Representative Eric Fresen (R-Miami), and Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Fort Lauderdale) have both been longtime “non-pro-gambling” legislators, are not pitching the idea of opening up the South Florida market to gaming.
Both of the bills up for consideration, HB 487 in the House, and SB 710 in the Senate are identical in nature, and they designate a minimum investment of $2 billion for the project. The idea is to bring a “higher end” gaming structure to South Florida and to keep the less desirable forms of gaming out. Fresen says that the low-end gambling market that is fueled by “lower income, or more highly addictive people” is not the type of gambling that the Destination Florida bills call for. The bills call for the expansion of the type of gaming that takes place in the higher-end casino hotels, such as the Wynn and Bellagio hotels in Las Vegas.
The controversy behind the measures is straightforward- pro-family groups, including the Disney Corporation believe that a ‘darker element’ will shadow gaming, i.e. prostitution, drug use/trafficking, and addiction to gambling.
On the flip side, proponents of the bills argue that this measure will brings millions in needed yearly tax revenue for the both state and local governments that would alleviate the stress that presently afflicts their balance sheets.
Apart from the competing views on gambling is a separate concern that concerns the Malaysian conglomerate Genting Group. According to some media reports, Genting has already bought the Miami Herald building in downtown Miami and submitted a plan to construct a casino on its purchased land, and have all but wrapped up the deal to construct and operate a casino in Miami. But according to both Fresen and Bogdanoff, nothing could be further from the truth, as they assert that Genting is using a very clever smoke-and-mirror marketing campaign that gives the perception that they have ‘locked-down’ the bid when in reality, they are no actively competing with other groups such as the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Wynn Resorts Limited, both of whom are also vying for the chance to build a destination casino or two in South Florida.
According to Senator Bogdanoff, the Las Vegas casinos have expressed interest in coming to South Florida for the reason that, “The one place in the entire nation that gives Vegas a run for its money, and that would be the South Florida market.”