Ante set at $2.5 billion to set up a South Florida casino
By Scott Blake
Under newly drafted legislation, you could be one of three mega-casino operators permitted in South Florida — as long as you have $2.5 billion to spend.
That's the minimum investment that would be required for such a project under twin bills by state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, and state Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican. The two lawmakers planned to submit their matching bills to the Legislature's drafting office this week for the upcoming legislative session starting in January.
According to Rep. Fresen, the bills also would:
nCreate a state gaming commission modeled after those in Nevada and New Jersey.
nPermit up to three resort casino projects in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
nEstablish state tax rates of 10% to 20% on gaming revenues at the casinos.
At least one project already proposed would meet the legislation's $2.5 billion investment threshold — the Malaysian-based Genting Group's plan for a $3 billion resort casino complex on the current site of the Miami Herald on Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami.
Several other large casino companies, including some in Las Vegas, also have expressed interest in big projects in South Florida.
Sen. Bogdanoff and Rep. Fresen said they had such plans in mind when crafting the proposed legislation.
A key point in the debate could be whether so-called "resort casinos" need a public vote for approval. Sen. Bogdanoff and Rep. Fresen maintain they do not because of previous referendums that allowed South Florida horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons to add slot machines in limited-use casinos.
"It is our opinion that the voters have already spoken on this issue," Rep. Fresen told Miami Today. "We have legal opinions that back us up. I'm fairly confident that we don't need a referendum."
However, Rep. Fresen said, if a public vote is deemed necessary for either legal or political reasons during the legislative process, he would not stand in the way.
In such a case, Rep. Fresen said, he thinks a casino referendum should be held during a general election rather having a special election for it, so the vote could not be questioned for its "transparency" or "legitimacy."
State Sen. Dennis Jones, a Seminole Republican who as chairman of the Senate's Regulated Industries Committee is the Senate's point man on gaming, said Gov. Rick Scott's staff told him the governor would not approve any legislation for expanded gambling unless a public vote was part of the proposal.
The governor's office refused to comment on the issue.
"I cannot confirm that," said Lane Wright, a spokesman for Gov. Scott.
Despite the growth of gaming in Florida, state law continues to prohibit gambling, said Bob Jarvis, a professor of gambling law at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.
However, Mr. Jarvis said, limited forms of gaming have been permitted through referendums that approved state constitutional amendments while keeping the state's anti-gambling statutes in place.
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