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Battle Lines Being Drawn Over Destination Resorts Bills

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(Source: CBS4)

(Source: CBS4)

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Destination Resorts Bill

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The battle lines are being drawn over the controversial Destination Resorts Act which would allow mega resort casinos at three locations in South Florida.

In Miami Monday, the two lawmakers responsible for filing the identical bills in the House and Senate took part in a “Destination Gaming Forum” hosted by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

The forum was held to bring together key lawmakers and gaming executives. Speakers at the event included Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale and Rep. Erik Fresen of Miami who filed the bills for the 2012 legislative session.

The debate kicked off with Senator Bogdanoff saying she hated gambling.

“If I could get rid of it, I would,” Bogdanoff said. “It will bring in international tourists and it won’t necessarily feed off of Floridians like our gaming system does now.”

The benefits of the casino were talked about by economists and by representatives of the casino groups looking to cash in on the proposal.

“We view Miami as the most underutilized convention and trade show market in the country, said Nick Larossi of the Las Vegas Sands Casino.

Only one person out of seven panelists didn’t buy into the casino’s pitch.

“The proponents seem to be in a hurry on this bill and I ask what is the rush,” Richard Turner of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Florida retailers also jumped on the “no resort casino” bandwagon Monday, and joined other business groups and Disney in opposition to the Destination Resorts Bills.

The Florida Retail Federation released a statement saying it, too, would fight against the proposed expansion, which the group said will end up hurting local merchants by “cannibalizing” economic activity by building one-stop, gambling-shopping-sleeping-eating-and-something-for-the-kids venues.

The retail group joins the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Disney Co. in efforts to scuttle the identical bills (HB 487, SB 710).

Part of the push behind the bill comes from the Genting Group and the nearly $4 billion it’s pledged to invest in Florida mega-casinos. The casinos could also bring approximately 100,000 jobs to the state.

The Genting Proposal would be for a five-star resort with 5200 rooms in downtown Miami. If built, it would be the largest casino ever built.

“People will be able to start real careers at our resorts,” said Jessica Hoppe, attorney for Genting America. “This means they will be able to save for college for their future; send their kids to school; start families; buy cars; buy apartments; buy condos; buy insurance for those condos.”

Spectators in the crowd told CBS4’s David Sutta that the plan appears to be a good bet and could be just what the business community needs.

“It’s actually expanding the pie and getting that pie to be catered to all of the business community in South Florida,” said Shawn Khosaravi.

Still, not everyone is ready to double-down and bet big bucks on the casino.

“The last thing you want is a proposal that will redefine our community,” said Dan Gelber. “This is a massive change. The casino they are talking about would be the largest casino in the world. It will be the equivalent of half-a-dozen casinos on the Las Vegas strip and we will immediately begin to resemble Las Vegas and Atlantic City.”

Some of the numbers presented at Monday’s meeting were eye-popping.

Proposal:

  • All resorts will be five-star resorts.
  • 5200 – number of rooms the Genting Group is proposing for downtown Miami.
  • $3.8 billion – amount pledged by the Genting Group to build a destination resort in downtown Miami.

Jobs:

  • 100,000 – amount of jobs in Florida proposed by the Genting Group.
  • 250,000 – amount of people currently unemployed in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.
  • $1.5 billion – amount Genting believes Florida would save in unemployment benefits with their proposed 100,000 jobs
  • $30k to $50k – average salary Genting is promising for their Miami resort employees
  • $16,000 – salary of a full-time employee in Florida making minimum wage.
  • 15,000 – amount of construction jobs being proposed by Genting

Taxes:

  • $120 million – amount Genting predicts they will pay in annual property taxes
  • $400 – $600 – amount Genting predicts they will pay in state taxes annually
  • 35% – tax rate of Florida pari-mutuels
  • 10% – tax rate proposed by the bill for the three destination resorts
  • $2 billion – minimum amount required to be invested to be considered a destination resort according to the proposed bill

Opposition:

  • 10,000 – number of businesses represented by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging association, which is against the formation of destination resorts.
  • 6 – number of full-size Las Vegas strip casinos you could fit inside the proposed Genting Casinos, according to nocasinos.com supporter Dan Gelber

Random Numbers:

  • 5.8 million – amount of people impacted by casino in South Florida (according to the Washington Economics Group)
  • $258 billion – amount of money that flows through South Florida annually (according to the Washington Economics Group)
  • 15 million – number of new visitors Miami-Dade could expect with new resorts (according to Genting Group)
  • 4 – number of underground parking levels Genting is considering to build to alleviate downtown traffic.
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