|Artist's Rendering of Proposed Resorts World Miami|
Officials from Genting Malaysia Berhad, a $45 billion company, unveiled a $3 billion plan called Resorts World Miami, on the 13.9 acres where the Miami Herald building now sits along Biscayne Bay. Genting proposes 5,200 rooms spread over four hotel towers, two condos with 1,000 units, a convention center and shopping, 50 restaurants and nightclubs covering about 10 million square feet. And, tucked away up on the third and fourth floors, is a spot it will have to fight for: a casino.
"If you just drop a square box with slot machines and table games you won't have much of an economic impact," said Colin Au, a principal in the Genting group. "But we think this will be the finest resort in America."
Florida has tiptoed toward Las Vegas-style casinos, first with slots, then expanding poker, then blackjack (but only for the Seminole Tribe of Florida). Genting's blueprints are the first that go for the whole shebang — including craps and roulette for the first time in Florida.
The casino is planned for the third and fourth floor of an eight-story podium for the hotels. Most Las Vegas casinos offer the ding-ding-ding of slots as soon as you walk in.
"Genting really feels that gambling is just one of many amenities," said architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia, who showed renderings of fish-shaped buildings, breezeways with ocean views and a 3.6-acre beach and swimmable lagoon.
Fort-Brescia sees the Resorts World site as a centerpiece to the three-mile section that runs past Bayfront Park, Bayside, AmericanAirlines Arena and the Adrienne Arsht Center. "When you describe Miami and Florida, you inevitably come back to the water," Fort-Brescia said. "We've captured that relationship with this design."
The state has yet to approve any kind of destination casino, let alone Genting's plan specifically.
"The Genting proposal creates a unique policy decision for state lawmakers that will require balance between generating substantial state revenue and creating a competitive environment where the destination casinos, pari-mutuel facilities and Seminole Tribe can prosper," said John Lockwood, a gaming law expert in Tallahassee who represents several gambling interests.
There's also a case in the First District Court of Appeal, challenging the Legislature's right to approve expanded gambling without a Constitutional amendment. A lower court had agreed the Legislature has the authority; the challenge surfaced after the state approved slots at Hialeah Park.
U.S. Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, say they will propose legislation for companies such as Genting to bid on licenses for resort-style casinos in South Florida. "It won't be geared toward any one vendor," Bogdanoff said. "We're coming up with a concept and a framework, but at the end of the day you're going to have 160 people total [the House and the Senate] poking at this."
Bogdanoff also wants a ban on Internet café gambling and a commission to better regulate all facets of gambling.
Genting, which owns 50 percent of Norwegian Cruise Line, made news on May 27 when it paid $236 million for The Miami Herald property – which will be demolished once the paper finds a new home. Since then, it also bought one of two bank notes for the nearby Omni Center, and two other small parcels nearby.
Genting already has Resorts World operations in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines and officials say the Miami one will happen, casino or no casino. "If destination casinos are approved in the next year or two, they'll build it all at once, within three to five years," said Genting spokesman Tadd Schwartz. "If not, they'll build it as the market demands, and take 10 to 15 years."
Officials say the project would create up to 15,000 construction jobs and employ 30,000 in the long-term. The Seminoles, who are in the second year of a five-year, $1 billion contract with the state that allows them to exclusively offer blackjack and other table games, declined to comment.
But if cards and dice start flying at destination resorts in Florida, the Seminoles' payments to the state would be voided. Federal law allows the tribe to have any game offered elsewhere in the state, so Seminole casinos could add craps and roulette. Bogdanoff supports destination casinos because the Seminoles have a monopoly, she says.
"This would create competition in an environment that has none," she said. "Right now pari-mutuels are going for the same market share: Floridians. What we're trying to do is, when people from elsewhere decide on a destination that they consider South Florida."
South Florida horse track, dog track and jai-alai fronton owners don't necessarily speak out against destination casinos, but some are asking the Legislature to ensure "parity in tax and products offered," said Mardi Gras Casino President Dan Adkins. Pari-mutuel casinos pay a 35 percent slot tax and have no table games.
"With parity, the Legislature can preserve the existing dollars and grow from there," he said. "Without parity, new operators would have to produce as much revenue as the entire Las Vegas strip in order to make up for what would be lost."
The bill from Bogdanoff and Fresen wouldn't address pari-mutuels, but Bogdanoff said "we don't want the industry itself to tear itself up, which they historically do."