Written by Michael Lewis on April 27th, 2021
Miami’s redesigned economic engine looked so powerful that nothing could derail it. Then, last week, the governor placed a gambling bet the economic equivalent of a train wreck.
A devastating gambling deal that Ron DeSantis signed with the Seminole tribe would not only legalize mobile sports betting across the state, but add three more casinos to the Seminoles, while opening the doors to at least three other Las Vegas-style casinos in Miami would open wide. Dade County, while more types of gambling are fine elsewhere.
Casinos have been hitting Miami’s goals for decades. Each time, community leaders have come together to keep them out. Finally, a 2018 constitutional amendment appeared to have become permanent protection, as a Floridians vote was required to allow for future expansions to the game of chance. The governor is circumventing this constitutional order with potentially devastating consequences for Florida.
Casinos have always been a drag for downturns as Hucksters promise plenty of jobs (mostly low paying) to prop up the economy. This threat was greatest during the Great Recession a decade ago.
False promises from casinos always offer the revitalization of a region with high unemployment. The best example was when a depressed Atlantic City turned into a casino hub. The influx of casinos then dragged the city to a rock bottom.
But Miami is riding a wave of growth. We are attracting an influx of wealthy workers who face high taxes elsewhere. We are becoming a financial center worldwide. We welcome tech entrepreneurs. Our world-class center for art and culture harnesses the strength of Art Basel in Miami Beach, whose organizers warn of the danger for their central company that a casino invades the city.
In addition, our wider and far stronger community economic base has even weathered a devastating temporary downturn in the tourism pandemic. There is no need to view gambling as a false rescue – casinos always prey on on-site workers who can least afford to lose, while weakening existing restaurants, hotels and entertainment businesses that are not part of a casino complex.
Our diversity is a strength: Our individual communities have unique economic generators, from the visitor strength of Miami Beach to the cultural strength of Miami’s omni arts district to the suburban flair of the fast-growing and thriving Doral. These areas vary widely, but all have created growing economic niches that enrich the entire county while creating a better lifestyle for residents.
Ironically, these are the three areas that the governor’s dangerous gambling deal could impact the most – although a major extension of gambling would soon put a strain on welfare and police budgets across the county, making itself felt in any community with a large gambling presence makes.
Impatient to open casinos are the owners of the Fontainebleau, the largest hotel in Miami Beach, which was converted into a casino years ago as soon as the state legalized it.
Also waiting is Malaysian gambling giant Genting, which owns both the former downtown Omni mall and adjacent property, which the Miami Herald bought for $ 236 million as the location for the world’s largest gambling resort.
After all, Donald Trump has been bleeding wealth since weakening Doral Golf Resort to become a money pit that bears his name. Rescuing the casino by officials would be a gift to the former president and a curse to the neighboring community. Mr. Trump could also use a casino game to save his volatile investment in nearby Mar-a-Lago.
But before the governor’s backroom deal with the tribe can spark a casino invasion, Miami and Florida have three potential protectors.
The first is a legislative session scheduled the week of May 17 to stamp the governor’s gamble of shedding $ 500 million a year from the Seminoles in exchange for making mobile sports bets, building three casinos, and theirs The presence of craps and roulette can add gambling offers, Las Vegas-style games that are now banned. The Seminoles, in turn, wouldn’t mind as the state expanded gambling out of the reservation as Florida’s visitor industry and community lifestyle made a 180-degree turn from family and business-friendly to Las Vegas East.
When gambling, the house always wins and most bettors lose. The worst bad bet, sadly, is the unlikely hope that lawmakers would summon both wisdom and backbone to hop the governor’s Las Vegas initiative out the door. The odds against a bold legislative vote on casinos are 10,000 to 1.
After all, most legislators live a long way from here. They could be spending half a billion a year on the rest of the state – in Tallahassee, we’re always a donor territory to the rest of Florida – and leave Miami-Dade to pay for the economic and social costs of operating the casinos. Tallahassees Casino Fix would be in.
Another bad bet: the legislature is expected to add a Gaming Oversight Commission, a state agency geared not to restrict further gambling but to ensure that gaming establishments’ income increases, with a cut being passed on to lawmakers will spend.
The second casino barrier is also weak. The federal government must approve every treaty – like a treaty – with a tribal nation. Federal measures, expected in August, are more likely to protect the tribe from bad business than a state or township from far worse business.
That leaves legal proceedings as a safeguard against what opening the doors to casinos would mean to Miami-Dade. Citizens are reinforced by a judicial challenge. Miami Beach as a city should do the same. They deserve all the support the community leaders can muster because the gambling interests are putting all their chips into a legal battle.
The constitutional challenge would be great: How could a governor and a legislature jointly strike a casino deal without the voter approval required by the constitution? The argument has to be that the Florida Constitution trumps a governor who wants to be a Trump himself.
Any legal effort deserves the full support of the community because once casino culture became Miami culture, there would be no going back. If we don’t even protect our lifestyle from casinos, we will fail forever.
We need a solid defense from those who realize they don’t want to be in Las Vegas East, and neither do people from around the world who come here now as high-spending visitors and perhaps permanent residents and investors.
It’s a really bad bet to play a Miami lifestyle that the world will envy to become Atlantic City or Las Vegas.