Armando Codina Op Ed in Miami Herald

Proposed gaming bill would have negative impact



Gaming provokes strong feelings and disagreement, even among friends and people of good will. Jack Lowell, my longtime business associate and someone I hold in high regard, recently wrote an Other Views piece favoring destination casinos in Miami.
I have been involved twice before in efforts opposing casinos. In 1986, I chaired the successful No Casinos effort. In 2005, I was involved in the fight against slot machines at parimutuels. We defeated the slot effort in Dade. But slots won in Broward and subsequently, they came to Miami-Dade County.

While I don’t favor gaming in Miami, I recognize that the environment has changed over the past few years. We have the Hard Rock Casino today, as well as an explosion of slots and other forms of gaming.

But the Destination Casino Legislation, as proposed, would have a negative and, possibly, devastating impact on our community. And to add insult to injury, the economic benefits appear to be headed to Tallahassee, while we in Miami are left to address the enormous traffic, infrastructure, law enforcement and social costs.

Consider just a few aspects of the bill:
The proposed legislation mandates casinos of enormous size.
HR 487 requires an investment of at least $2 billion (excluding land) and “limits” the gaming space to 10 percent of the total space. The first casino on the drawing boards is over 8 million feet, creating a mega-casino with 800,000 square feet (the size of approximately 14 football fields).

This is far larger than any casino in Vegas’ in fact, it would be the largest in the world.

The bill would tax these casinos at a 10 percent rate, with all the money going to Tallahassee.

No tax money stays here in Miami, where the tax is generated, and where we would need it to mitigate the impact of mega-casinos.

Take traffic, for instance. Even before the Genting announcement, there was concern about the lack of a master plan that would address downtown development, including traffic congestion. The Town Square Neighborhood Development Corp. was formed as a nonprofit to support the infrastructure needs of the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

To be fair, Genting Group has engaged with us in a transparent way and has made its architects and traffic engineers available to our team. Nevertheless, accommodating a mega-casino in the heart of downtown would require an enormous investment in roadwork and other infrastructure.

At a minimum, any traffic remediation required by the construction of a mega-casino should be built concurrently with the development and funded in advance. Anyone who thinks for a second that a transportation solution would come later from a tax generated locally and then sent to Tallahassee should have their heads examined.
The legislation would allow two Mega Casinos in Miami-Dade and they could both end up in Downtown Miami.

Two mega-casinos would choke downtown Miami. Adding thousands of hotel rooms and hundreds of restaurants to the downtown area in a short period of time sounds like good economic development — until you consider the impact that all of this gaming-subsidized competition will have on the noncasino businesses.
When our Legislature counts the jobs, I hope they and the governor also count the jobs that will be lost. When you add this many rooms, restaurants and entertainment subsidized by gaming, it will have — without a doubt — a negative impact on the remaining hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

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The proposed legislation calls for a speed derby, not a thoughtful process to award casino licenses.

The legislation offers a scoring method to judge proposed mega-casinos. You can tell what they value by the weight assigned to different things. “Speed to market” gets a 35-percent weight, while financial strength has a 10-percent weight. What could possibly be wrong with this picture? Plenty.

This is a very important decision, and it is replete with serious potential for a number of unintended consequences. Miami-Dade and Broward have never seen projects of this magnitude. There is a lot at stake for this community and many large vested interests.
The only winners so far are The Miami Herald and its parent, McClatchy, which were the beneficiaries of a $236 million windfall when they sold their site to a casino operator. Ironically, they will soon be leaving the neighborhood for a new headquarters.
This is going to be, no doubt, a bruising fight and one that will ultimately be decided not by the voters, but by our legislators. I cannot imagine how any thoughtful elected official from Miami-Dade or Broward could vote for this legislation as proposed — and legislators from around the state should not vote for anything they wouldn’t want to see in their own community.
Armando Codina is a Miami businessman and civic leader.

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