TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – The destination casinos bill making its way through the Florida House died Friday after the House Business & Consumer Affairs Committee that was hearing the bill continued it until the next legislative session in 2013.
Supporters of the plan said the bill would bring major casinos, billions of dollars, and thousands of jobs to areas where none exists now.
“You know what’s happening now? Little Haiti still has high unemployment. Overtown still has high unemployment. The Omni, no more shopping. Just a government funded Metro Mover twisting through empty lots,” said Miami Realtor John Restainer.
But opponents were just as vocal in their dislike for the bill.
“Large scale gambling such as what is being proposed here today can be likened to opening the doors to an insidious disease,” said Miami community activist Grace Solares.
A Senate panel had already approved a version of the legislation, but the measure has stalled as senators wait to see if there are enough votes in the House to pass a bill.
But Representative Erik Fresen of Miami said he recognized there wasn’t enough votes to keep the bill going.
“I have the ability to read the tea leaves and recognize where this bill is headed in this committee,” Fresen said.
“This was round one, and I think the good guys won,” said Dan Gelber, a former state senator from Miami and leader of the “No Casinos” group organized to oppose the big gambling houses.
Gelber said the fight isn’t over.
“These mega casinos have been circling our state for decades, and they’re not going to give up. They’re going to run at us again,” Gelber said.
Resorts World Miami, a division of Genting, released the following statement after the move, confirming Gelber’s prediction:
“We greatly appreciate the hard word of the destination resorts legislation bill sponsors, as well as those who support efforts to bring commons sense gaming reform and jobs to Florida,” said Jessica Hoppe, senior vice-president of government affairs and general counsel. “Resorts World Miami remains committed to the vision of world-class destination resorts in South Florida, and will continue to work with the state legislature and the South Florida community to bring this vision into a reality.”
Genting has already spent more than $400 million dollars acquiring property for his proposed resort casino project on the Miami waterfront.
“We have already made our investment,” said Resort World’s Hoppe. “I don’t think this issue will go away. I don’t think today is the last say.”
Gelber said opponents are up to the ongoing fight.
“I don’t think the big money is going to win,” he said. I think the longer you look at this idea, the more scrutiny it gets, the worse it smells.”
The action by the House committee today effectively kills consideration of a casino bill by the full legislature this year, including the parallel but somewhat different version in the Senate.
The Senate wants to regulate sweepstakes operations known as Internet cafes, a nod to people in South Florida who are upset with what they see as a wholesale spread of small time gambling at neighborhood cafes.
The Senate version allows dog and horse track owners in counties with casinos to offer the same type of gambling.
The bill is needed to provide the framework for a plan to bring a major destination casino proposed by the Genting organization to a site once owned by the Miami Herald, near the performing arts center area.
Critics said the project will overwhelm other businesses and bring more congestion and crime, but supporters said it would generate huge amounts of income and jobs, and help entrench Miami as one of the world’s major cities.
A CBS4-Miami Herald-El Nuevo Herald-Univision 23 showed that South Florida residents are almost evenly split on the idea, which would virtually re-write Miami’s skyline.