Las Vegas Sands says one Miami resort casino is plenty
By Scott Blake
In what could shape into a battle of casino giants, Las Vegas Sands Corp. plans to compete with Genting Group and other gaming industry leaders for one of three coveted resort casino licenses that would become available in South Florida under newly proposed legislation.
"There's nothing we like more than a competitive bidding process," Andy Abboud, vice president of government affairs for Las Vegas Sands, told Miami Today. "Everyone will be looking in Miami. But there's only so much to go around."
Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands came out with the pronouncement Friday, two days after twin bills by state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, and state Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican, were filed in Tallahassee for the legislative session starting in January.
Mr. Abboud confirmed that Las Vegas Sands is interested in several blocks in the Park West area of downtown controlled by the Miami World Center group.
"We're in active conversations with Miami World Center. We think that site is very attractive," Mr. Abboud said, "but it doesn't mean there aren't other options out there."
He added that some of those options might be outside of South Florida in other counties around the state where voters approve the idea of hosting resort casinos, which would be permitted under Bogdanoff-Fresen legislation.
Mr. Abboud said the Sands project would offer hotel rooms, entertainment venues, convention and meeting space in addition to a casino, but he said it is premature to discuss details.
"We have to be respectful of the legislative process," he added.
However, Las Vegas Sands wants to make convention/tradeshow space an important part of a South Florida project because the company sees that as the greatest market need in the region, Mr. Abboud said.
He said Las Vegas-based Sands doesn't think the South Florida market could support more than one multibillion-dollar resort casino. He indicated that Sands would look elsewhere in the state if another company such as Genting is licensed to operate in Miami.
"Our primary focus is still South Florida," he said.
Las Vegas Sands wants the part of the legislation that calls for casinos to take up no more than 10% of the total square footage of the resorts reduced to 5% because the company believes that is "the best economic model for Florida," Mr. Abboud said.
"The casino doesn't mean that much for us," he added. "In Las Vegas, only 1% of our total space is casinos."
The way Las Vegas Sands sees it, he said, South Florida already has a somewhat saturated gambling market, with the only underserved demand in the "high-end" gaming market such as a luxury casino resort. Mr. Abboud said Sands sees a particular need for more convention and meeting space in the Miami area.
"We're a casino-centric mentality," he added. "We think Miami is very under-served in meeting, convention and tradeshow business."
Referring to Sands seeking a Florida casino license, Mr. Abboud said:
"It's important to look at a company that's been fully vetted by gaming authorities in the United States in a highly competitive market like Las Vegas. And what's most important is that you have a regulatory structure to make sure you have the best, brightest and cleanest operators licensed in Florida."
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