Fresh off reporting an almost trebling of profits at its Resorts World Sentosa casino in Singapore, Malaysia’s Genting Bhd. has purchased 14 acres of waterfront land in Miami for $236m. Genting plans to turn the property, previously owned by the Miami Herald newspaper, into Resorts World Miami, encompassing a hotel, convention space, restaurants, retail and residential components. Genting did not announce plans to include a casino, mainly because Florida law doesn’t permit casinos anywhere but on tribal Indian lands, some racecourses and other facilities.
However, there’s been no shortage of attempts to change Florida law to permit ‘destination resort casinos,’ and Genting’s arrival has “upped the ante,” according to Nick Iarossi, a lobbyist for Las Vegas Sands Corp. Sands boss Sheldon Adelson met with Gov. Rick Scott just two weeks after Scott won office last November, pledging to invest up to $3b on a Miami resort casino project, but legislation that would have permitted such development died in Florida’s Senate in April.
Casino firms spent big bucks to lobby Florida’s politicians on behalf of this failed effort. Las Vegas Sands, which spent only $35k lobbying in Q1 2010, pushed that figure to $135k in Q1 2011. Las Vegas billionaire Phillip Ruffin, who owns the Treasure Island casino, spent $300k in the same period. Genting and Wynn Resorts also splashed out. But Florida’s Seminole Tribe, which holds a monopoly on table games in the state, spent $140k to push back against the outside casino interlopers. Racino and dog-track owners also spent six-figure sums to keep their own slot machines competition-free.
So where does Gov. Scott sit on all this? On one hand, he just vetoed a proposed $400k cost/benefit study of bringing ‘destination resorts’ to Florida, but in the same breath, encouraged the Legislature “to make a comprehensive review of additional gaming… a full consideration of the positive economic impact, the costs that may result from this policy, and the impact on current gaming in our state.” Okay, then why did you just veto a study that would have done exactly that? “Such a study at this time is an expense Florida taxpayers should not incur.” So, Scott wants the Legislature to conduct a study, but doesn’t want to pay for it. Seriously, if you ever needed an example of why America’s finances are in such horrendous shape, look no further.