Gov. Rick Scott’s negotiations with Seminole Tribe could be a blueprint for gaming’s future in Florida
FILE–Gov. Rick Scott speaks as he attends the ribbon cutting for the opening of a I-595 Express Project on March 28, 2014 in Davie, Florida. The Governor finds himself dogged by questions about recent resignations by one of his top fundraisers, Mike Fernandez, as well as Gonzalo Sanabria, a longtime Miami-Dade Expressway Authority board member, who is reported to have resigned Thursday from his post to protest the disparaging and disrespectful treatment of Mike Fernandez, the former co-finance chairman of Gov. Rick Scotts campaign.” JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES
BY MARY ELLEN KLAS
HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott, who made a career out of negotiating hospital mergers, is now applying his negotiating skills to a deal with the Seminole Tribe that could singlehandedly dictate the future of gaming in Florida.
The legal agreement, known as a compact, could open the door to swanky resort casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward, or force them to remain off limits indefinitely. It could allow for dog racing to be replaced by arcade-style games, or close loopholes in state gambling law. It could allow for lower tax rates at the state’s horse and dog tracks and jai-alai frontons, or force them to remain at a competitive disadvantage with the tribe.
Or it could do nothing, leaving in place the status quo.
Like any good negotiator, Scott is keeping his cards close to the vest and neither he nor the tribe is talking.
Records show the governor’s general counsel, Pete Antonacci, hired two Minnesota law firms in December that specialize in tribal law to “provide advice and assistance on tribal-state compact negotiations.” Antonacci traveled to Fort Lauderdale recently to meet with the tribe’s top lawyers.
And the most potent sign that the governor is talking: his office asked legislators to stop discussions of its gambling bills to avoid losing his leverage in the deal. That prompted House Speaker Will Weatherford last week to officially declare “lights are out” on gambling legislation for the session.
“The compact truly has become the cornerstone of gaming policy in the state of Florida,’’ said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who helped negotiate the current compact but has not been invited to be part of this year’s discussion.
The tribe’s right to operate blackjack and other card games at five of its seven Florida casinos expires next year, and the tribe wants the compact to renew those games. But the agreement must be ratified by the Florida Legislature, where Republican proponents of gaming have joined with their Democratic counterparts to push for an expansion of gambling options at Florida’s pari-mutuels and to bring resort casinos to South Florida.
Many legislators say that to get the votes for a compact, the governor will have to find a way to help Florida’s gaming establishment compete with the tribe — or unify the anti-gambling lawmakers to support a compact that is close to status quo. For most of his term, the governor has not been an aggressive negotiator in the face of a divided Legislature.
“I will lead the effort to defeat ratification of the compact if it’s a sellout to the Indians the way the last one was,’’ said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who supports expanded gambling. “We penalized a lot of other facilities that had been in business in Florida for 60 and 80 years and gave the Indians a monopoly. I think that’s wrong.”
House Democrats, many of whom represent South Florida pari-mutuels, also are considering voting together to defeat any compact that doesn’t either lower tax rates or expand gambling options for pari-mutuels.
The pari-mutuels and casino companies have invested heavily to help their cause. They contributed $572,000 in the first quarter of this year to the Florida Democratic Party and $682,000 to the Republican Party of Florida during the same period. The Seminole Tribe gave each party $150,000 as the session began and negotiations were underway, and it gave the governor a whopping $500,000.
Also absent from the negotiating table is one player that overshadows anything the governor agrees upon: Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor turned Democrat who is likely to win the party’s nomination to face Scott in November. Crist negotiated the current compact in 2009; the Legislature approved it in 2010.
Under the agreement, the tribe agreed to pay at least $234 million a year in exchange for the exclusive right to operate slot machines at four casinos outside of Miami-Dade and Broward. The tribe also got exclusive rights to blackjack, chemin de fer and baccarat at the Hard Rock Casinos near Hollywood and Tampa, and three other casinos.
The force behind the compact is money. As long as the state agrees to give the tribe something of value — such as the exclusive right to operate games — the tribe pays the state a share of its revenue. If the state does something to reduce that value — such as approving the construction of additional casinos — the tribe can stop its payments, according to the terms of the deal.
For the state, the threat of losing that money has worked to keep competitors at bay and gaming expansion off the table.
“The compact is the primary brake on the expansion of gaming, ironically,’’ said Barry Richard, a lawyer for the Seminole Tribe who helped negotiate the current deal.
Even skeptics of the original compact are now supporters. John Sowinski, director of the Orlando-based No Casinos organization, said that his group would like to see the compact renewed, but “would oppose anything that gave them more.”
“The revenue arrangement serves as a useful deterrent,’’ he said. “It’s like mutually-assured destruction from a gambling standpoint.”
The current agreement has produced more than $1 billion in revenues for the state over the past five years and, while the compact lasts for 20 years, the card game provision expires on August 1, 2015. Scott is widely expected to want to improve on Crist’s compact by doubling the guaranteed revenues to at least $2 billion over five years.
An analysis by Spectrum Gaming Group, commissioned last year by the Legislature, estimated that the Seminole Tribe makes about $2.06 billion a year from combined slot and card game revenues at its seven casinos.
By contrast, Spectrum estimates that the eight casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward make about $2.7 billion from their slot machine revenue combined, prompting many legislators to demand that the governor shift state policy to favor the pari-mutuels.
Five years ago, the state “didn’t have a whole lot of leverage,” Galvano said. The tribe was illegally operating black jack already. The Legislature was in the throes of a recession and was eager to get the revenue from the tribe and negotiators had to work out every detail — from the placement of ATMs to smoking rules.
“Now, the negotiating posture is so much better,’’ he said.
Public attitudes about gaming also have changed. Numerous polls show Florida voters broadly support the expansion of gambling in every region of the state; casino giants such as Las Vegas Sands and Genting’s Resorts World are eagerly investing in lobbying lawmakers to bring resort casinos to Florida, and the sentiment among legislators is that private sector gambling should expand.
Another recent development is the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, a federally recognized tribe that owns a one-acre parcel of land in northwestern Escambia County. They have asked the governor to negotiate a state compact to allow it to operate slot machines and table games. The governor has not yet responded.
Both tribes are sovereign nations that cannot be forced to pay taxes and, under federal law, the state may accept payment from a tribe only if it gives it something of value in return. To make sure the state complies, any compact must be approved by the U.S. Department of Interior.
No one expects Scott and the tribe to complete a deal before the legislative session ends May 2, but some lawmakers say there’s a chance that the governor may be on track to announce a deal in the next month.
Under that scenario, the governor would call a special session to ratify the deal, presumably after he receives the state budget, and then would strategically use the power of his veto pen to help win approval from reluctant lawmakers. The most politically powerful time for a governor to have a special session is before he has issued his vetoes.
But to do that, the governor would need an assurance that he could get the votes and avoid an embarrassing defeat on a controversial issue. That has prompted many to suggest he will wait to announce a deal until November — postponing the sensitive issues and avoiding antagonizing the powerful interest groups that have spent millions on state level campaigns.
Said Latvala: “I’d like to see this Legislature do the deal, but there’s a lot of uncertainties in people’s minds. I think the Indians are holding out for the guy who gave away the shop the last time. I don’t see why they would necessarily be enthusiastic about making a deal now.”
Las Vegas Sands, which was the first to present the idea of bringing a resort casino to Florida when legislators were negotiating the compact in 2010, is losing patience.
“The ball’s now in the court of the Legislature and governor,’’ said Nick Iarossi, who represents Las Vegas Sands.
If compact negotiations don’t keep destination resorts alive, “we won’t continue past the end of the year. … We’re not interested in becoming a negotiating chip to get a better compact,” he said.
Resorts World Miami, the Genting company that already has invested heavily in downtown Miami, is prepared to wait it out, said Brian Ballard, the company’s lobbyist.
“We always thought the compact was central to our opportunity to bring a destination resort to Florida,’’ he said. “We were hopeful it would get done this session but there is no good public policy argument why it had to get done now. There are a lot of people who think this will get done after November.”
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/04/12/4055832/governors-negotiations-with-seminole.html#storylink=cpy
The Miami City Commission on March 27 is indeed where folks need to be present and speak up. Something is seriously flawed when a resource of this kind cannot be saved for future generations. This compromising of our natural and historic resources did not come about because the majority of the community wished it to be so. The community spoke clearly and publicly at the HEPB meeting, before a panel of experts in a standard legal process.
To attempt to circumvent and suppress the HEPB’s decision by a closed-door mediation session with only selected participants with no real constituted authority to negotiate away parts of the archaeological site (“a non-renewable resource” in the most literal sense), with no Native American representation or involvement in that process (much less approval of it) cannot be given the same credit or credibility as the HEPB process.
For the Internet and the news media to buzz with headlines of “Settlement Reached” only compounds the error further, perhaps in hopes that, like the “Big Lie” theory, if something is shouted long enough and loud enough it becomes truth in the minds of the people.
We ALL, the developers included, owe ourselves more and better than that. We might simply ask a simple question: Which will be the more valuable legacy to our future generations: Yet another “upscale” hotel, movie theater, and retail complex that has destroyed much of an archaeological site, or the site preserved intact and in situ, with the complex built intelligently and respectfully around it?
The legacy we pass on is not just the final product (which is almost incidental), but even more importantly the ability and willingness to make wise and caring decisions that are driven by values and principles more reasoned than just “the bottom line at the end of the day” for a few of us.
I was a member of the mediation board for the Met Square/Tequesta site last week. I was asked (as UM’s Director of the Institute for Public HIstory) by Comm. Marc Sarnoff to be involved in trying to find a solution. I felt then and now that the City’s Hep Board’s decisions should have been allowed to be played out for such a momentous decision but I also thought it was important for me, when asked, to be involved in forging a solution that did not totally eviscerate the site- which was and is possible.
I did not personally sign the final agreement (it was signed by the city and the developer) but there was an overwhelming majority of the mediation group that did agree to it in principle.
I had and still have some significant reservations. In my view the entire site should have been saved for archaeological and historical purposes. It is that important for our identity and sense of place. It would have also provided needed public space for downtown Miami residents.
The problems were political, legal and financial. Who would come up with the $100 million (who knows how much) to pay for it? The city? the state? The federal govt? A private philanthropist? The Seminoles? I doubted it then and now though I continue to wish some such entity would step up. Who would pay for a lawsuit? It appeared that the City of Miami Commission might well be cowed by threats of lawsuits. So in one sense it became a sad bargain. I also did not see a broad public outcry (similar to the Miami Circle) that could have made a political difference. Maybe it could still happen but I doubt it. There was much hidden in the process (lack of adequate reports on a timely basis) that hopefully will come out later.
So I have very mixed feelings about the result. We saved some of the site (under the building for future archaeological examination) and several circles and a plaza. We also forged an agreement that the interpretation would be done by a consortium of participants – not simply HistoryMiami which had never spoken out in favor of the site to the Hep Bd – so that a broader array of experts can become involved.
So the public should weigh in on this process as it sees fit. I am saddened by the inattention of the public in relation to such momentous matters (in stark contrast to the shameful attention given David Beckham and his stadium on the evening news on March 14) but it fits with the weak news media coverage we receive (though Andres VIglucci- did a relatively fair and credible job in reporting this issue for the Herald.) Where was TV, radio or other political leaders in weighing in on the Met Square Tequesta issue? Our past seems not to matter much to our political leaders. We appear to be a rather placeless place- beach, sun celebrities, and endless disposable buildings with little regard to where we have come from. I try to remain hopeful and involved in the process – however limited it may be. Others should speak up as they choose -before the city commission meeting on March 27.
Posted on Saturday, 03.08.14
Appeal over Miami’s prehistoric Tequesta Indian village site brings politics into preservation question
FILE–Archeologists are excavating the Met Square site in downtown Miami that was a parking lot most recently, but before that was the site of Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel and, dating back to 500BC, a Tequesta Indian village. From the Indian era, they have found postholes, sharpened tools, and animal bones. Vanessa Enriquez, left, and Adrian Espinosa dig at the site. CHUCK FADELY / MIAMI HERALD STAFF
Fullsize Buy Photoprevious | nextImage 1 of 2
BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI AND NADEGE GREEN
When developer MDM Group managed to yank away from Miami’s historic preservation board last week the question of what to do with the discovery of a significant prehistoric Tequesta Indian village site, they moved the ball into a potentially more advantageous court — the political, deal-making world of the City Commission.
And, in fact, the negotiating has already begun over the array of carved postholes that archaeologists say likely represent the foundations of a 2,000-year-old village.
Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes downtown, summoned MDM attorney Eugene Stearns to his office Monday to urge a compromise that would save the most important archaeological features on the site, both participants said. Sarnoff is also proposing the unusual step of asking the property owners to enter into mediation with preservationists.
But therein lies the rub: Who gets to decide what those “important” features are, how they’re best protected and displayed, and what would be destroyed and re-buried? And who would enforce those decisions?
Ordinarily, the process would start with the historic preservation board — which under the city code has legal authority over archaeological and historic sites — and the city’s preservation office. The board already had a say because the site sits in a long-designated archaeological zone. But after months of accumulating finds at the site, the board last month began taking action to evaluate and protect the archaeological features.
First it rejected a plan by MDM to cut out a circular posthole arrangement for display in a nearby plaza, then it asked the developer to come back with a better plan for protection of the archaeological features in place. Finally it asked the city’s preservation officer for a preliminary report on the merits of designating the site as a protected historic landmark, which would give the board greater oversight over any development.
But in a surprising, unprecedented action, an assistant city attorney on Tuesday stopped the board, at least temporarily, from discussing the designation of the Tequesta site, which also includes remnants of Henry Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel and a 19th Century U.S. Army fort.
Assistant city attorney Amanda Quirke cited MDM’s pending appeal of all three previous board decisions, filed with the City Commission, which she said need to be settled first. The commission hears appeals of board decisions.
In halting the hearing, dismayed preservationists and historians say, the city may have short-circuited the legal procedures set up precisely to make those determinations of significance, and set a worrisome precedent that other developers could exploit in opposing efforts to save Miami’s ever-shrinking store of historic buildings and sites.
“There’s never been a historical find like this, certainly not in South Florida, but I just think this whole process has been an abomination,” said University of Miami historian Greg Bush, a founder of the Urban Environment League.
Bush has met with Sarnoff to voice his concerns. “This is backroom stuff, clearly,” he said.
Several attorneys with extensive experience in Miami land-use, municipal and preservation issues contacted by the Miami Herald, and who spoke on the basis of anonymity, called the city attorney’s action “unusual’’ and “odd.” All said the city had no legal obligation to halt the preservation board hearing absent a stay from a court, and surmised the decision might have been motivated at least in part by political considerations.
Quirke had originally said that the board’s vote and MDM’s appeals could run on separate, parallel tracks, according to Elizabeth Merritt, deputy general counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who met with Quirke and other city staffers.
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, who has been largely silent on the Tequesta issue, defended the decision by the city attorney’s office. But he said he believes the preservation board will eventually get its say after the City Commission weighs MDM’s appeals, in a hearing tentatively set for March 27.
“I respect that board,” Regalado said. “They’re going to have their hearing and their vote, but first we have to resolve the first appeal. It’s not that the city attorney wants to silence the board. We don’t want to have two parallel votes.”
One preservation expert said the procedural issues may not be significant in the long run, given that a decision as fraught as whether or how to save the downtown Tequesta site from proposed development would likely ultimately fall to the City Commission on appeal anyway.
But the wisest immediate course for the commission, said David Doheny, retired counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is to deny MDM’s appeals and allow the preservation board to proceed.
“It seems to me the historic board is in a perfect position to go ahead and designate,” said Doheny, a former assistant state and U.S. attorney in Miami who has closely followed the Tequesta site debate. “There’s no question it’s very important. It’s been overwhelming testimony to that effect.
“There are three levels of history there, from the Tequesta on up through Fort Dallas and the Royal Palm Hotel. There aren’t many places in this country that present that kind of opportunity to interpret that panoply of history, especially in tandem with the Miami Circle across the river.”
MDM — which has plans to build a hotel and entertainment complex called Met Square on the two-acre site — and its attorneys sharply disagree.
Stearns, while not entirely dismissing the site’s historical significance, has ridiculed archaeologists’ conclusions that the postholes probably mark the site of Tequesta dwellings and structures as “hokum,” contending that most of the carvings are instead random, insignificant “noise” produced by later settlement on the site by successive groups.
That posture marked a sharp turnaround for MDM, which in years of intermittent digging at the site had not contested the value of the finds by its consulting archaeologist, Bob Carr. Days before the firm hired Stearns to fight preservation of the site, MDM director Ian Swanson had praised Carr’s work in an interview.
Last week, Stearns said MDM has asked its architects to explore the feasibility of saving and integrating two circular arrangements of postholes that may have been carved by the Tequesta into its project for public display. That alternative would be presented to the commission during the appeal hearing, he said.
But Sarnoff said he believes independent mediation, which the city successfully used recently in settling a legal case over the rights of the homeless to congregate downtown, could provide a way out of the impasse.
He said Carr and other experts have already developed enough information to enable agreement on what must be saved on the site, even if there is no formal report yet from the archaeologist marshaling and analyzing the evidence — something the preservation board likely would request. Carr has said he has not yet fully surveyed the site.
“I think there are enough facts out there. What I do know is, there are a host of people who believe this site should be preserved. There are private property rights,” Sarnoff said, adding that he intends to ask fellow commissioners for support for mediation at their meeting Thursday before the MDM appeals would be heard. “Sometimes the best time to negotiate a settlement is when everything is unsettled. Uncertainty breeds compromise.
“My idea is, could you sit down at a table and see if everyone can live with a compromise so that it can become an educational, interesting place to be?”
Merritt, the national trust counsel, said mediation has been used in numerous instances to save historic sites while allowing compatible development to occur.
“It can be very successful,” she said. “There often is an architectural solution that requires some creativity but can achieve preservation while allowing a new project to go forward. But you have to have two willing parties.”
The difficulties, she said, can be in deciding who sits around the table — who speaks for preservation, and who for the city, since municipal bodies can be at odds — and then deciding who enforces any decisions.
That’s why some local preservationists say they are dubious about mediation, and support letting the preservation board do what it’s designed to do. The board’s nine members — who represent disciplines ranging from architecture to preservation and real-estate development — commission studies, gather public testimony and get professional advice from the city preservation officer to decide whether a property merits designation,
Then they would review any plans for development on the designated site for compatibility to make sure that historic or archaeological features are unaltered and appropriately visible to the public. A developer seeking to build on a historic site needs the board’s OK before the city will issue a building permit.
Bypassing the board entirely, argued historian Arva Moore Parks, would set a bad precedent. In the future, she said, developers fighting designation of a property could make an end run by appealing to the commission routine requests by the board for a staff report before any decision on designation is even discussed, as MDM did.
“I care about the site, but this is a bigger issue about preservation,” Parks said. “All they did was ask for a designation report. How can you appeal something that hasn’t happened?”
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/08/3982311/appeal-brings-politics-into-preservation.html#story_link=email_msg#storylink=cpy
Posted on Monday, 03.03.14
Miami: Tequesta site near Miami River meets criteria for preservation
An archaeological dig in downtown Miami is underway at the MetSquare development to unearth Tequesta Indian structures.
An archaeological dig in downtown Miami is underway at the MetSquare development to unearth Tequesta Indian structures. CW GRIFFIN / MIAMI HERALD STAFF
Prehistoric village found in downtown Miami
Miami historic preservation board moves to protect Tequesta site
Developer: Tequesta site in downtown Miami is “hokum”
BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI
The remnants of a 2,000-year-old Tequesta Indian village, a U.S. Army fort and Henry Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel that were unearthed in layers of soil and bedrock in downtown Miami meet the criteria for designation as a protected historic site, the city’s preservation office has concluded.
The report by Miami’s preservation officer means it’s likely the city preservation board will opt to proceed with a full designation study when it meets Tuesday, setting the stage for what could be a protracted legal and political tussle over the fate of plans for commercial development on the site.
Developer MDM Group, meanwhile, said it intends to propose to the city a partial redesign of its high-rise hotel and entertainment complex to preserve and display a portion of the archaeological site, even as it continues to fight preservation on the legal front.
MDM attorneys have filed an appeal with the City Commission challenging a preservation board rejection last month of the developers’ plan to cut out a portion of the Tequesta and Royal Palm remnants — uncovered beneath what had been a parking lot for more than 70 years — and display them in a nearby plaza. The board asked MDM to come back with a plan that redesigns its building to preserve and appropriately display archaeological remnants in place.
MDM’s attorney, Eugene Stearns, said Monday that the developer has asked architect John Nichols to explore ways of preserving two of the circular arrangements of postholes that archaeologists say were likely the foundations of dwellings in a 2,000-year-old Tequesta village.
One circle, in the southwest corner of the property, could be covered by a glass floor and lit up. The other, dubbed the Royal Palm Circle, could be enclosed and exposed to viewers from a balcony overlook, Stearns said. Both would be enclosed within the building because the limestone would otherwise degrade.
In addition, MDM has commissioned historians, including Miami historian Paul George, to work on materials to interpret the site for visitors, including a book detailing the site’s history.
“They will let us know if that can be done,” Stearns said of the architects. “It’s the right way to do things to solve the problem.”
Still, Stearns reiterated his view that conclusions by archaeologists that the hundreds of carved postholes on the site were dug by Tequesta are mostly “hokum,” “hysterical” and “based on no evidence whatsoever.”
He did say the company’s own research has found evidence that one of eight circular posthole arrangements found by MDM’s consulting archaeologist, Bob Carr, was indeed made by the since-disappeared Tequesta — the southwest circle they propose saving. He said Carr, who has supported preserving the site, “missed” the evidence — a depression that suggests the tribespeople used it as a hearth.
The other postholes, Stearns argues, are “noise’’ — random holes dug by the Army, Flagler’s builders or other settlers with no special significance.
Nonetheless, Stearns said, MDM’s principals are willing to preserve that one circle and some other pieces of the site, which he acknowledged has some historic significance, though not enough to justify saving all of it.
“They’re good people. They don’t want to be fighting with people,” Stearns said of MDM. “The objective is not to win in court. The objective is to make peace and move on.”
Until last month, when news of the discovery made international headlines, MDM had not questioned the validity of Carr’s findings, which emerged gradually over the past year and have been backed up by Miami-Dade County archaeologist Jeff Ransom, state of Florida archaeologists and independent researchers. Stearns complained volubly in interviews on Monday that news coverage by the Miami Herald and other media has been unfair and inflated the site’s significance.
Stearns’ pugnacious approach has not endeared him to preservationists or archaeologists who say the site represents one of the most significant prehistoric finds in the United States, and has prompted questions about MDM’s tactics. Stearns’ arguments and sometimes aggressive questioning of Carr and Ransom were publicly criticized as “ignorant” by a University of Miami archaeology professor during a preservation board meeting last month.
But Stearns’ strategy appears to be predicated on cutting the preservation board, which has legal authority over archaeological and historic sites, out of the picture. The filing of his appeal to the City Commission, Stearns contends, means the board no longer has jurisdiction over the site. He said he plans to present the developers’ proposed alternative to the commission, bypassing the preservation board, which normally would review any development plans on a designated site.
The battle in some respects echoes the effort more than a decade ago to save the Miami Circle, a circular posthole arrangement on the south side of the Miami River opposite the more recent finds, also researched by Carr. Some critics dismissed the find as a hoax when preservationists and public officials rallied to save the site — later purchased for $27 million by the state and turned into a public park — from a planned high-rise condo development.
But one veteran of that battle, attorney Michael Kreitzer, who represented Miami Circle site developer Michael Baumann, said MDM’s legal position in this case is weak. Unlike in Baumann’s case, MDM signed an agreement with the city as part of its development approval that allows public officials to intervene in case of any significant archaeological finds, and MDM does not yet have a building permit, Kreitzer noted.
The city, meanwhile, has the power to proceed with designation, Kreitzer said — meaning that MDM could be forced into court for years, delaying its project significantly, if it chooses to fight rather than compromise. But he noted that designation doesn’t mean the developer can’t build.
“If reasonable minds prevail, then I think this land can be generally protected for the benefit of society, but at the same time, the developer should be able to develop most of his land. That has to be the goal, but I don’t see things moving in that direction,” Kreitzer said.
“The developer is pressing his heels into the ground. The government cannot easily disengage because it sees its role as protecting the city’s historic heritage. It looks like what’s ahead of us is not a mutually beneficial solution but World War III. World War III ends up costing everybody millions of dollars, and at the end of the day you end up in the same place you are today.”
If MDM were his client, Kreitzer said, he would advise negotiation.
“The lesson to be learned here is, you don’t need to fight that entire fight. Sit down across the table, have a thoughtful conversation and do something beneficial for everyone,” he said.
A preservation board vote Tuesday to formally consider designation would impose a development moratorium on the property — which encompasses most of a downtown city block on the north side of the Miami River — while a final decision is made. Eventual designation would not block development, but would likely require developer MDM Group to significantly recast its project to preserve and display the archaeological finds.
The staff report backing designation also recommends that the board ask Carr to prepare a detailed analysis within 30 days documenting the findings and laying out the evidence for their significance to help make the designation determination.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/03/3972095/city-tequesta-site-near-miami.html#storylink=cpy
Posted on Monday, 03.03.14
Florida House proposes overhauling gambling regulations, but no new casinos
BY MARY ELLEN KLAS
HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU
TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House weighed in on the gambling debate Monday and proposed a bill that would not authorize new casinos but would overhaul the state’s gambling laws, putting all regulation of racetracks, slot machines and poker rooms under a Gaming Control Commission similar to those in other large gaming states.
Unlike a similar Senate plan, which would overhaul regulation and also authorize new casino resorts in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the House plan would leave the decision to introduce mega-casinos in Florida to the governor.
The governor could approve or reject the casinos when he negotiates a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The governor has until July 2015 to renegotiate a portion of the 20-year compact that applies to the tribe’s exclusive right to operate table games such as blackjack and baccarat at its South Florida casinos.
The House also drafted a constitutional amendment that would require voters to approve any expansion of gambling that is not approved by legislators this year. The measure could close the door to future gambling expansion because 60 percent of voters statewide would have to approve of any new venture.
That provision would offer a measure of economic security to those in business now. It also attempts to win the support of gambling opponents who see it as a permanent limit on expanded gambling.
The Senate has also proposed a constitutional amendment to give voters the authority to limit future games, but the House proposal would be more restrictive.
The thrust of the House proposals — which were being finalized late Monday — follows the initiative announced last week by the Senate to revamp the way gambling is regulated.
The primary House bill, filed by Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, the head of the House Gaming Committee, would create a Gaming Control Commission that would regulate all gaming in the state except the Florida Lottery. It is similar to the Senate plan to create a state Gaming Control Board.
Unlike the Senate gaming board, which would consist of five members appointed by the governor, the House gaming commission would be composed of five members appointed by the governor from a list of candidates chosen by a legislatively controlled nominating commission.
The move by the House came on the last day members could file individual bills and as the Senate launched its debate over bringing two casino resorts to South Florida.
The Senate Gaming Committee discussed, but did not vote, on its three proposals to allow Las Vegas’ casino giants to move into the state under the regulation of the new state gaming-control agency.
“We’re getting ready to roll the dice,” said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee, as he began his summary of the package of bills.
The industry-friendly committee is the first stop in the Senate, where gambling interests have traditionally received a warmer welcome than in the House. The Senate bill, for example, would reward three of the largest donors to legislative political committees in the state — Genting/Resorts World, which has spent more than $1.2 million on legislators this election cycle, Las Vegas Sands and the Seminole Tribe.
The Senate bill would not authorize the expansion of slot machines to six counties outside of Miami-Dade and Broward that have passed local referenda to allow them, Richter said, but instead clarifies an attorney general’s opinion that rejected local referenda as a viable way to expand the presence of slot machines in Florida.
Richter said he chose not to give those regions slot machines because it would end the state’s revenue-sharing compact with the Seminoles. The current agreement, in force through 2030, requires the tribe to share revenue with the state as long as it has the exclusive right to operate slot machines outside Miami-Dade and Broward.
Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, an opponent of gambling expansion, said the bill is designed to imply that it will attract tourists from outside Florida by including convention centers, entertainment and tourism options in addition to casinos without including a definition of “destination resort.” He said evidence shows that 80 percent of the business from the new casinos will come from local residents while only 20 percent will come from outside the community.
Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said he doubts the additional casinos would add to the state economy, and would be an unnecessary expansion of gambling.
Richter responded that he doesn’t consider the addition of two casinos “an expansion of gambling” but an “expansion of commerce.” He also noted that if the Senate bill passes, the state is “at least five years away from the first destination casino opening its doors.”
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said that with gambling already widespread in Florida, the goal should be to strengthen the current options in a way that allows them to create more jobs. He pointed to the resurgence of Hialeah Race Course, which now offers quarterhorse races and used slot machines to finance its resurgence.
“To me, the decision here is not whether we are going to expand gambling. The decision here is whether we are going to protect a monopoly that a sovereign nation has,” Latvala said, referring to the Seminole Tribe and the casinos it operates throughout the state.
Provisions of the Senate bill include:
• Creating a Joint Legislative Gaming Control Oversight Committee composed of seven senators and seven House members that would have oversight over all gambling operations, including the Department of the Lottery. The committee would meet quarterly and oversee anything, including sales and advertising, and make written recommendations if it determines additional legislation is warranted.
• Requiring the new casinos to devote no more than 10 percent of their real estate footprint to gaming, and casino operators to spend $2 billion on the investment, not including the real estate purchase.
• Requiring applicants for the new casino licenses to pay a refundable $125 million fee and a $1 million investigation fee. They would also be required to spend $250,000 a year on preventing compulsive gambling.
• Taxing the new casinos at a rate of 35 percent.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and @MaryEllenKlas
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/03/3972218/florida-house-proposes-overhauling.html#storylink=cpy
How the Arena Deal was Sold to the Public in 1996 Revealed in a 2004 article. How cynical! Where is the park that was critical in selling the Arena? Parcel B- now called Arena Park
Sports Business Journal: January 12 – 18, 2004
Successful strategies for pitching an arena project to voters
MICHAEL E. MURPHY
Published January 12, 2004
Major league sports and big-time politics are more connected than most people think. Both arouse public passions, both are in the news on a daily basis and both are fiercely competitive. When a major sports team seeks public approval to build a new stadium, sports and politics combine in a unique campaign.
Team boosters and owners are often surprised to learn that the public is often slow to warm to the idea of building a new sports stadium. When the Miami Heat announced plans to build a state-of-the-art waterfront arena in 1994, civic leaders who supported the deal were shocked to see polls showing a majority of the public opposed the new arena. Worse yet, an up-and-coming candidate for mayor made opposition to the arena a centerpiece of his campaign and roared from behind to victory.
Voters are wary of arena deals because they are both stingy with public funds on big projects and suspect of big sports teams needing any public money in the first place. They read about huge player salaries and assume that wealthy team owners can pay for the stadium themselves. Voters also fear traffic jams caused by big arena projects.
The Miami Heat used then coach Pit Riley in television ads that touted what a new arena would do for the entire community.
Team owners quickly find that a strong fan base alone does not provide enough votes to win a referendum campaign or force a new stadium project on wary public officials.
So what is a sports franchise to do when the world of sports merges with the world of politics over a proposed arena or stadium? A quick study of the Miami Heat’s successful campaign to win a Dade County referendum provides some interesting answers.
In 1996, the Miami Heat faced strong grassroots opposition to its plan to build AmericanAirlines Arena along the waterfront in Biscayne Bay in Miami. A Dade County open-space advocate had secured the petition signatures necessary to place a referendum on the November ballot to block the Heat’s arena from being built. In late August, the arena project appeared to be doomed. A Miami Herald poll showed that 60 percent of Dade County voters were opposed to the new Heat arena being built along the waterfront. And while the agreement called for Dade County to invest only $8.5 million a year to pay maintenance and operation costs associated with the new arena, there was still strong opposition to taxpayer subsidies in the project.
When the Heat hired my consulting firm, we did the first thing we would do in any political campaign. We conducted a Hill Research poll to find out why voters were opposed to the new arena and what messages we could use to change their minds.
We found that to win we had to make the referendum about more than basketball. It is important to convince voters that the winners in a new stadium are not the big team owners but the entire community. That demands a wider argument than just the glittering attributes of a shiny new arena for the home team. We had to make the campaign about civic pride, and we needed an effective candidate-like spokesman to sell our message. The argument that the Heat might leave Miami was persuasive to some voters but was not a compelling enough message to secure victory.
Our research showed that Pat Riley, the Heat’s coach at the time, was the team’s greatest asset. Riley was viewed as a big celebrity, a winner and someone who added prestige to the Heat and the entire city.
We also saw that different voter groups each saw different benefits in the arena. This was important. Most cities are combinations of different communities, each with its own unique outlook. In Dade County, Cuban-Americans saw the arena as a symbol of pride and local achievement. African-Americans saw an economic project bringing new jobs and had pride in the local NBA team. White voters were most excited about a new family-friendly park on Miami’s waterfront, including soccer fields and a new arena, which would bring in concerts and other entertainment events. Recasting the arena as a waterfront park and arena was to be key to our campaign.
It is important to convince voters that the winners in a new stadium are not the big team owners but the entire community.
We featured Riley prominently in political-campaign-style TV ads to deliver our message that Miami was a world-class city that deserved a world-class waterfront park and arena. The Riley ads refuted the notion that the referendum campaign was just about basketball and focused on the economic benefits and excitement the waterfront development would bring to the city.
To support the paid advertising we ran on TV, we ran aggressive direct-mail and phone campaigns that targeted research-driven messages to each specific voter community in Dade County. Jay Cross, Heat president at the time, hit the chicken dinner circuit with an impressive presentation on the new arena. We appealed to Cuban-American voters with Spanish-language ads and mail, and we conducted a community-by-community bus tour with Riley and Heat players to generate media coverage and momentum behind our “Save the Waterfront” campaign. We constantly checked and rechecked our effort with polling to make sure the numbers were moving our way.
In five weeks, we were able to shift the referendum debate from a question of building a sports arena for a millionaire owner and his millionaire players to one of securing Miami’s reputation as a first-tier American city. On Election Day, the anti-arena referendum was rejected by a vote of 59 percent to 41 percent, a nearly 40-point turnaround from the late August polling numbers.
So how do the lessons of the Miami Heat’s successful referendum campaign apply today? To be sure, the political situation that owners face now is more difficult than in 1996. There is much evidence to show that new sports arenas haven’t delivered the economic bang their proponents promised. There is growing fan dissent over rising ticket prices and spiraling player salaries. And there is a very real perception that teams have no loyalty to their communities.
All of these dynamics point up the need for sports teams to turn to political professionals to run the elections they need to win to secure public financing for new arenas. In most circumstances, the opposition forces to building a new arena will not have the resources to wage a traditional campaign with television ads and the other tactics we used in the Miami Heat campaign. This is a big advantage that owners should fully exploit. For a relatively small investment (we spent $3.5 million to win the Miami campaign), you can run a political-style campaign that will drive the public debate on your referendum.
The bottom line is if you need to win public financing to build a new stadium, you should do these things: First, start early, plan ahead and use a political pro who understands the schizophrenic way voters think about issues and elections to run your campaign. Second, make the argument wider than a shiny new building for your team, no matter how popular you are. Third, don’t be afraid to set the terms of the debate yourself, instead of waiting for your opponents to corner you.
Michael E. Murphy is a partner in the Washington, D.C., and Sacramento-based public affairs firm Navigators. He has handled strategy and media for more than 20 successful gubernatorial and senatorial campaigns, and has worked with the Miami Heat and the New York Jets on arena or stadium issues.
DRAFT PROPOSAL ONLY-
The Urban Environment League of Greater Miami
In Conjunction with Miami Neighborhoods United
And Dade Heritage Trust
Building Upon Our Shared Past:
The Tequesta Site Design Forum and Public Competition
On February 14, 2014, the HEPB Board of the City of Miami challenged the developer of the Tequesta site (MetSquare) to return with a new plan that incorporated key archaeological/historical elements. MDM Development Corporation lawyer Gene Stearns also challenged public advocates for preserving the site to create viable plans to make the site work – both economically and in terms of dynamic accurate but historical interpretation. We agree and believe that broad public input into the site can be useful in building cooperation, community consensus and public knowledge about our shared past- and work with the developer and public officials .
Procedures: The UEL MNU and DHT in conjunction with local educational institutions, volunteers, and professionals will be provided an opportunity to present their conceptions of plans for the Tequesta site within an integrated plan for the downtown Miami waterfront.
Website: www.uel.org and links
Awards: $500- High School and Undergraduate $1000- Graduate and Professional
Locations: To be determined: close to site??
Three Linked Events
1. An Evening Introductory Forum: A Waterfront Through Time
-Speakers: Archaeologists, Architects, and Historians: Bob Carr,
-Arva Parks, Paul George, Gene Tinnie, Native American Representative
2. Saturday Morning Forum:
(1) 9-10 AM Comprehensive Ideas By Students of All Ages: Site Plans, Pathways, Visions of an Integrated Waterfront
(2) 10:15-11:15: Architectural Student Renderings of the Tequesta Site Design – Integrate into the Miami Waterfront
(3) 11:30-12:30: Historical Interpretation: Building Upon Our Shared Past
(4) Lunch Forum: The Economics and Management of the Tequesta Site
3. Final Evening Event:
Miami Waterfront Integration: Presentation of Design/Historical Interpretation/Business Management Plans
Public Comment period and Discussion with the MDM Developer
Exclusive to OpEdNews:
OpEdNews Op Eds 12/3/2013 at 12:38:45
Zombie Politics & Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism
By Richard Clark (about the author) Permalink (Page 1 of 5 pages)
In a recent discussion with Bill Moyers, a synopsis of which follows here, Professor Henry Giroux explained how zombies are an appropriate metaphor for a society whose political, media, and financial institutions are without a soul, most the members of which society walk in a world in which the lust for power and wealth corrupts absolutely, and sucks away real life. What’s at stake, said Giroux, is not just the fact that you have rich people who now control the economy and all the commanding institutions of society. What you have is basically a transgression against, and abandonment of, the basic ideals of democracy.
Giroux is the author of several great books, a few of which are: America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth, Twilight of the Social, Youth in a Suspect Society, and Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education. He also posts a lot of essays online at various web sites like TruthOut and CounterPunch.
Giroux argues that democracy is too important to allow it to be undermined in a way in which every vital institution that matters is in crisis — everything from the political process, to the schools, to the inequalities, to the money being put into politics — all those things that make a democracy viable. The key problem is that this crisis, while associated increasingly with the economic system, has another dimension, something that most of us haven’t gotten yet: What the reigning elite are now in fact telling the American people, if not the rest of the world, is that democracy is an excess, a luxury that is no longer affordable. The powers-that-be are telling us that we don’t any longer need the welfare state, and that the survival of the fittest is all that matters.
We are thereby seeing a consolidation of power that is so overwhelming, not just in its ability to control resources and drive the economy and redistribute wealth upward, but basically in its ability to provide the most fraudulent definition of what a democracy should be. I’m referring to the incredible and vicious set of assumptions that are being systematically foisted upon us:
* profit-making is the essence of democracy,
* economics is and should be divorced from ethics,
* the only obligation of citizenship is consumerism,
* the welfare state is a pathology that must be done away with,
* any form of dependency is disreputable and needs to be attacked.
The overarching lie is that capitalism is synonymous with democracy, that we have no way of understanding democracy outside of the market, and that we have no way to understand freedom outside of market values.
When Margaret Thatcher (metaphorically) married Ronald Reagan, two things happened
The first was this then-burgeoning assumption that the government was evil except when it benefited the rich. So it wasn’t a matter of smashing the government as Reagan seemed to suggest, it was a matter of rearranging it and reconfiguring it so it served the wealthy and the elites, especially the corporate honchos and banksters.
But Thatcher said something else that’s particularly relevant to this discussion. She said there’s no such thing as society; there are only individuals and families. And so, with the growing popularity of this view among conservatives, what we begin to see is the emergence of a kind of survival-of-the-fittest ethic that legitimates the most incredible forms of cruelty, that seems to suggest that freedom in this discourse has to do with getting rid of the concept of society, getting rid of the social — so that popular discourse will only be about self-interest, and only about how possessive individualism is now the only virtue that matters. So freedom, which is actually essential to any notion of democracy, would now become nothing more than a matter of pursuing one’s own self-interest. Problem is, no society can survive if these intellectual conditions come to predominate.
So what is society, really?
It’s an entity in which the wealth is in some ways and to some extent shared, in which there is a mesh of organizations that are grounded in a social contract, and that takes seriously the mutual obligations that people have to each other. But more than anything else it has to do with something FDR once said: You not only have to have personal freedoms and political freedoms, like the right to vote and the right to speak out, you also have to have socioeconomic freedoms, i.e. you have to have the freedom from want, the freedom from poverty, and the freedom from being disadvantaged by no-good health care and no-good education.
Getting ahead cannot be the only thing that motivates people. One must imagine ALL that makes for a good and satisfying life. And that means we need to be able to make decisions as citizens, and learn how to govern, and not just be governed, as a citizen — a citizen who is a political and moral agent, who in fact has a shared sense of hope and responsibility to others and not just to him or herself.
Next Page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
FRIDAY, MAR 9, 2012 6:30 PM UTC
Casino capitalism: As gambling spreads, metaphor becomes reality
As more and more states turn to legal betting to fight the Great Recession, a metaphor becomes reality
TOPICS: U.S. ECONOMY, GAMBLING, NEWS
Casino capitalism: As gambling spreads, metaphor becomes reality
A player puts a dollar coin in an Atlantic City slot machine (Credit: AP)
Though Wall Street’s brand of “casino capitalism” crashed the American economy in 2008, American capitalists are making a growing profit from real-life casino gambling: commercial (or non-Indian) casinos have generated nearly $98 billion since 2008, including $34.6 billion in gross revenues in 2010 (the last year for which data is available), up from $20 billion in 1998. That’s more than three times the sum Americans spend on movie tickets. And only $5.7 billion was generated in Las Vegas. The fantastical upside-down world of American commerce long confined to Nevada and Atlantic City, N.J., is now ubiquitous.
The billions of new dollars spent at casinos represent a net transfer of wealth to big business and to pay workers whose labor is not as productive as, say, repairing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Casino capitalism is an apt metaphor exactly because — whatever one might think about legalized gambling — it is not generally perceived as a sound operating principle for the entire economy. Yet the steady march of casino gambling now sketches an eerie facsimile of our political economy writ large. In fact, casinos thrive amid economic misery.
Industry leaders tout casinos as a tool for creating jobs and increasing revenue, and recession-weary politicians are listening.
“When you’re in recession, what that normally means is that state government suffers with regard to the revenue they have available to fund public services,” says Frank Fahrenkopf, CEO of the American Gaming Association, the industry trade group. “When the state legislature needs revenue, this has proven over the years to be a very successful way to bring in capital investment, economic development, jobs, and tax revenue.”
The United States has since the early 1990s undergone a piecemeal but profound social and economic transformation: casinos, nearly prohibited nationwide in 1910, are now legal in some form in 40 states, including 24 with legalized commercial operations. The companies involved make a tidy profit: Of the $34.6 billion in revenue (and again, this figure is in addition to the $26.7 billion generated at the nation’s 448 tribal casinos), casinos paid just $7.59 billion in taxes and $13.3 billion in wages and benefits.
With budgets tight, “the governor will get the bright idea that he can open casinos and then not have to raise taxes,” says Earl Grinols, a Baylor University economics professor and gambling critic. “We have a new round of expansion in New York, in Pennsylvania, in Massachusetts. The industry uses every recession as an opportunity for expansion.”
In Illinois, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pressing for a casino to make up for a budget shortfall. In Detroit, which continues its slide into oblivion, casinos grossed $1.378 billion in revenue. In Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, a new Sands casino opened in 2009 at the site of the shuttered Bethlehem Steel mill. Though the casino won’t come close to replacing Bethlehem’s 31,523 unionized steel jobs, residents of the depressed city packed the casino on opening day to revel in the possibility of revival.
“Even in this economy, people still want to challenge luck,” a pleased Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson told the New York Times.
Many gamblers end up unlucky, and much of the casino debate has hinged on the question of social costs: whether casinos cause more crime and create more gambling addicts.
“The social costs clearly outweigh the social benefits,” says professor Grinols. “The only people who benefit from casinos are the owners.”
Pennsylvania’s I-95 corridor is now crowded with gambling houses: Parx casino in Bensalem, SugarHouse on Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront, and Harrah’s in Chester, where the school district is virtually bankrupt. Harrah’s general manager said the customers in its database visit the casino an average of 4.5 times a week, while the state’s news media have fixated on the troubling trend of parents leaving their children locked in parked cars when gambling in Bensalem.
A significant portion of gambling revenues — one-third to one-half — is derived from problem gamblers, says Grinols, who, in a 2006 Review of Economics and Statistics article concluded that 8 percent of crime in casino counties can be attributed to the presence of legal gambling.
But Fahrenkopf, a lawyer and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, says that Grinols and allied academics rely on flawed data. “They no longer argue the morality of gaming, because the American people are way past that. So they argue about social costs,” says Fahrenkopf. “As my old boss Ronald Reagan used to say with regard to the Russians: trust but verify.”
Indeed, the literature is conflicted. Some academics, like Harvard Medical School’s Howard Schaffer, say that the number of gambling addicts has not increased alongside casino expansion. Douglas Walker, a professor of economics at the College of Charleston, has criticized Grinol’s methodology in studying casino-related crime.
But the larger problem is indisputable: The growth of the gambling industry feeds on America’s job insecurity; people, whether gambling or seeking employment, have fewer viable ways to make good money. As the country has deindustrialized since the 1980s, and unions have been marginalized, real wages stagnated and then declined. At the same time, a deregulated and ascendent financial sector offered easier-than-ever credit cards and home mortgages, leading Americans desperate to maintain their lifestyle deep into debt.
Sociologists Kevin Leicht and Scott Fitzgerald have dubbed these people “postindustrial peasants,” tied to debt — from subprime mortgages to the high-on-student debt but low-on- job-prospects for-profit colleges — in the manner their agrarian forebears were tied to land. Meanwhile, the poor depend on an array of “alternative” and usurious financial services like pawn shops, payday lenders and check-cashing stores to stay afloat.
“At the same time that work has become less secure, there has also been this massive move to privatize the financing system for the two traditional mechanisms of economic mobility: homeownership and education. All these industries have grown by trading on people’s efforts — sometimes concerted, sometimes desperate — to get ahead in a world where opportunities in the labor market are hard to come by,” says Adam Goldstein, a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies the financialization of the American economy (and a friend).
When it comes to the real economy, legal gambling has the same limitation as Wall Street speculation: It doesn’t make tangible things that we need or foster broad-based prosperity.
In fact, the gaming economy may be reaching its outer limits, as new casinos cannibalize revenue from preexisting operations. In Atlantic City, casinos have experienced a $1.6 billion decline in revenue and hemorrhaged more than 96,000 jobs since Pennsylvania opened its first casino in 2006. The depressed business reduces the tax revenue generated for desperate state coffers and prompt government to take ever more desperate measures. The $2.4 billion Revel, Atlantic City’s newest resort and casino slated to open in May, was only completed after Gov. Chris Christie delivered a $261 million tax credit to the project.
The American Gaming Association, says Fahrenkopf, does not get involved in statehouse debates because they so often pit his members against one another.
In states that legalize gambling, casinos no doubt create jobs but they don’t necessarily stimulate the larger economy. A 1999 report by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission found that “few businesses can be found more than a few blocks from the Atlantic City boardwalk. Many of the ‘local’ businesses remaining are pawnshops, cash-for-gold stores and discount outlets. One witness noted that, ‘in 1978 [the year the first casino opened], there were 311 taverns and restaurants in Atlantic City. Nineteen years later, only 66 remained, despite the promise that gaming would be good for the city’s own.’”
The destruction of Main Street America in the age of Wal-Mart cannot, of course, be blamed entirely on casinos.
“You always get that sort of thing, and it’s not only in this industry,” says Fahrenkopf. “When a new mall is coming into a community, it’s going to have chain shoe stores, chain restaurants. The small town businesses are going to face the same — I don’t know if you want to call it capitalism — the same free market challenge.”
Casino jobs are comparable to those created throughout the American service economy: They are no replacement for vanished manufacturing employment, and wages can be quite low if unions don’t fight their way into the picture. In Las Vegas, Culinary Workers Local 226 (part of UNITE HERE) has organized 60,000 casino and hospitality workers, boosting wages and benefits far above those that prevail in non-union Reno. But Atlantic City’s downward spiral shows the fragility of labor success in the service economy. Most of the 5,500 permanent employees at the Revel will, in a first for the heavily unionized boardwalk, have to reapply for their jobs every four to six years.
Likewise, the prospect of casinos driving net job growth nationwide seems unlikely. While commercial casino revenues nationwide have increased by 73 percent since 1998, employment grew by just 5 percent, or 15,132 jobs, to 340,564. In New England, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine and Rhode Island are rushing to expand casino gambling and outcompete their neighbors. But as casinos expand, new profits are by-and-large net transfers to casino magnates who, flush with cash, leverage political muscle at the statehouse. In New York, Malaysian billionaire KT Lim, chairman of gambling empire Genting Berhad, has poured a large but undisclosed sum into a high-end lobbying operation to expand gambling in New York with the goal of remaking the “racino” at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens into a multibillion-dollar casino resort and conference center.
In Florida, legislation to legalize casinos was last month defeated in large part because of Disney World’s behemoth opposition: Their lucrative version of tourism is based on a “family friendly” brand. The political viability of casino gambling may be determined less by popular will and more by the balance of power between moneyed interests in any given state. In New York, major business groups like the Partnership for New York City, the Committee to Save New York, the Business Council of New York State — and, now, decisively and after long-running opposition, magnate Mayor Michael Bloomberg — support the legislation. Meanwhile, racetrack owners in New York and other states are scrambling to obtain a monopoly on expanded gambling.
The expansion of casino gambling can engender fierce opposition. And it can make for strange political bedfellows too, as progressive social justice advocates and Christian anti-gambling moralists join forces. In Philadelphia, activists organized a diverse, if ultimately unsuccessful, citywide movement against SugarHouse. But other neighbors welcome the casino and the largess they deliver via “community benefit agreements” through which casinos pay for school books, libraries and programs for senior citizens and veterans. Functions that in the past were expected from government are now delivered by corporations under a halo of philanthropic beneficence.
The limits of casino capitalism are nowhere more evident than in the birthplace of legal gambling in America: Las Vegas. Wall Street investment fueled the rise of modern Las Vegas casinos. In the 1980s, Steve Wynn was the first casino magnate to fund the construction of a new casino through Wall Street-issued junk bonds, displacing the mafia as legalized gambling’s patron of first resort. Wall Street also funded Las Vegas’ meteoric housing boom, which has ended in one of the country’s largest busts: housing prices in the city more than doubled between 2000 and 2006. When the bubble burst, Las Vegas spent 22 months as the nation’s foreclosure capital.
And so casino capitalism spreads relentlessly even after Las Vegas, the brightly lit neon dream of a post-industrial America, has come crashing down.
Daniel Denvir is a staff writer at Philadelphia City Paper and a contributing writer for Salon. You can follow him at Twitter @DanielDenvir.
MORE DANIEL DENVIR.