Head of Beacon Council warns of casino woes for Miami
Frank Nero, a veteran of New Jersey politics, sees Miami casinos as a threat to growth and creating a diversified economy for South Florida.
BY DOUGLAS HANKS
The head of Miami-Dade’s economic development agency warned Tuesday that Miami casinos could damage the county’s economy and frustrate efforts to attract more high-paying professional jobs.
Beacon Council President Frank Nero said he wants the community to take a more analytical look at proposals to build a pair of casino resorts in Miami’s urban core, plans which enjoy political support throughout Miami-Dade and in Tallahassee.
With promises to invest up to $3 billion in each project and create thousands of jobs, casino operators from Las Vegas and Malaysia are pitching their projects as economic jolts amid one of the worst hiring markets in South Florida’s history.
But Nero, a veteran of New Jersey politics before coming to Florida, questioned whether the casinos would ultimately help Miami’s economy.
The massive casino properties, with dozens of restaurants and Vegas-style attractions, would serve as “vacuum cleaners’’ that suck customers and dollars from surrounding establishments, Nero said. That could have a “chilling” effect on businesses in the nearby Design District and Wynwood neighborhoods, two of the most celebrated retail districts in Miami.
Nero emphasized that he was speaking as an individual, and that the Beacon Council’s board has not taken a position on gambling. He said he was wading into the debate in part because of his experience as a county commissioner in New Jersey when casino gambling came to Atlantic City in the 1970s.
“I see some of the same issues, some of the same promises and some of the same comments by the casino industry trying to get it approved in New Jersey,’’ he said.
Nero warned about the social ills large casinos could bring downtown Miami, including prostitution, addiction issues and organized crime.
“People have latched onto the glamour and the promise of casino gambling,’’ Nero said. “[Casinos] clearly will be game changers. The question is: Do we want to have that game here?”
Casino gambling vaulted to the forefront in South Florida after Southeast Asia’s largest casino operator, Genting Group, paid $236 million for watefront land where The Miami Herald sits and promised a $3 billion resort there. A co
mpeting resort site allied with the Sands casino in Vegas would go in Miami’s Park West neighborhood. An industry-backed bill would allow three casino resorts in South Florida, as long as developers pledged to invest at least $2.5 billion into the projects.
Genting issued a statement Tuesday afternoon describing the proposed Resorts World Miami casino as a a destination that will “strengthen Miami’s position as an international tourism destination and serve as an economic catalyst, an engine for jobs, and a source of relief for local businesses.” Genting said a pair of casino resorts transformed Singapore’s economy by increasing tourism by more than 40 percent.
Nero made his comments during an interview in his Beacon Council office, joined by two top aides. He emphasized the opinions were his own and do not reflect an official position by the Beacon Council, a non-profit funded by Miami-Dade tax dollars and dues by member businesses.
The board of the Beacon Council includes casino suporters, and Nero said the organization may take a position on the gambling issue at some point. Nero also said he would like to serve as a “devil’s advocate” on the gambling debate, raising questions that need to be asked.
“Before we get on this train — this fast-moving train — we better find out where it is going,’’ said Nero, a former county commissioner in New Jersey’s Somerset County who said he now regrets his support for legalized gambling in Atlantic City the 1970s. “This is a big decision. This is a big deal.”
Nero’s comments went to the heart of the pro-casino argument: that the resorts would help turnaround a struggling economy and elevate South Florida’s tourism industry. Nero noted that Miami-Dade already enjoys the some of the nation’s highest hotel rates and occupancy levels.
“It begs the question: Do we need it?’’ Nero said of casino resorts. By bringing a pair of Vegas-style casinos to downtown Miami — and the well-funded advertising campaigns sure to follow — the Beacon Council will have an even harder time persuading companies that Miami is more than just a sunny vacation place, Nero said.
“We still have a tough time convicing people there is a diversified economy here,’’ he said. “We fight the tourism image all the time — that it’s the only industry we have.”
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/10/11/2448918/head-of-beacon-council-warns-of.html#ixzz1dLUHUufK