Miami-Dade commission denies public a casinos vote
By Ashley Hopkins
Chairman Joe Martinez's push to place a non-binding referendum on resort casinos on the January ballot failed to make it past the Miami-Dade County commission Tuesday, as fellow commissioners said it's too early to ask for voter input.
Mr. Martinez was hoping to add to the Jan. 31 ballot a straw-ballot question asking if voters support the presence of destination resort casinos in Miami-Dade.
Bills to allow three massive casinos are filed in the state House and Senate. Malaysia-based Genting Group seeks a $3.8 billion, 10 million-square-foot Resorts World Miami casino in the Omni area. Other casino firms also bank on a state OK to open.
While Mr. Martinez said a straw vote would help the commission determine where the public stands and increase voter turnout, fellow board members said the commission should hold off until it had every piece of the casino puzzle.
"I don't think there is enough information to offer the public to make a decision on this," said Rebeca Sosa, adding that the commission should wait until it has concrete action from the Florida Legislature before putting the issue before voters. "I want them to vote when I have enough substance to provide to them."
Barbara Jordan agreed, saying too many questions still surround the legislation to ask for voter input now.
"Our constituency looks to us for our opinions and guidance," she said. "I can't tell them that I know anything about this."
The item failed 8-5, with Mr. Martinez, Jean Monestime, Xavier Suarez, Javier Souto and Lynda Bell supporting a non-binding Jan. 31 ballot question.
Mr. Monestime said that since the commission approved Nov. 3 an item that would ask voters whether commissioners should be allowed to serve only two four-year terms and receive a $92,097 salary, up from the current $6,000, he didn't see why the casino question shouldn't be included.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez agreed, saying the vote would act as a "signal of what the community wants."
"The people of Miami-Dade County have a right to vote on exactly what it is or will be," he said, "not some drawings and some promises."
While the issue won't be put to a public vote in January, Mr. Martinez asked that commissioners review a letter he plans to send to the state. His draft states that while the commission "has not yet taken a formal position" on resort casinos, in any legislation:
Pari-mutuels must get parity with them in games and tax rates.
If the state approves the bills as written, resort casinos would be allowed to operate and sell alcohol 24 hours a day. Resort casinos would pay a 10% state tax on gross receipts, while pari-mutuels would continue to pay 35%.
nIssues pertaining to "continuing viability" of the Miami Beach Convention Center and the Arsht Center must be addressed.
Miami Beach is seeking $648.2 million to expand its center by 1 million square feet, doubling meeting, lobby and service areas.
The bills, which require that the county provide "conceptual approval" for any destination resort casino, must clearly define "conceptual approval."
While the commission is to review the letter and offer input before Mr. Martinez submits it to the state, Ms. Jordan asked that it include a provision that would require state financial support for residents who can't afford to relocate as a result of casino projects.
"I want to make sure that there is an opportunity to… at least give financial assistance to those who cannot relocate," she said.
Dennis Moss recommended that the letter ask the state to create an "integrated use plan," detailing how casinos could function without affecting surrounding businesses.
The 12-member Senate Regulated Industries Committee, which handles gambling issues, held the first of two three-hour sessions on the bill last month. The second is to be this month, with a vote expected in January.
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