Casino resorts? Braman says don’t buy the hype
BY NORMAN BRAMAN
I believe “destination resort casinos” are an assault on the quality of life of our community and must be well-scrutinized and defeated lest we lose the advantages our community has struggled to offer its citizens — and its tourists. One only need examine the promises that were made to other cities regarding casinos and gambling, and compare the results to those promises.
There is a reason they are called “destination” casinos: they maintain control of their patrons by virtue of “comps,” discounts and other incentives for their numerous on-site, casino-owned operations, including restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. They are loath to see patrons leave their facilities even to have a meal. Thus, in Atlantic City most retail establishments, including restaurants, no longer are in business.
Jack Lowell, who wrote exuberantly in a Nov. 10 column in support for the Genting Group’s Singapore operations, leaves many questions unanswered. He has refused to identify the South Floridians who accompanied him on that Singapore junket and who paid for it.
On the subject of disclosures, shouldn’t Genting, which bought The Miami Herald and Omni properties, as well as the Las Vegas casino operators who want to open casinos here, disclose the names of the lobbyists they have hired, the amount of money they have pumped into campaign coffers of our legislators and what PACs these companies have established or contributed to in an effort to sway public opinion?
It is not in Miami’s best interest to become another Las Vegas, with an unemployment rate at 14 percent and a leader in housing foreclosures. Compare those facts with Lowell’s statements about Singapore’s so-called “economic boost,” and contrast it with Miami-Dade County, where, without big-time gambling, hotel occupancy is booming.
Moreover, supporters of casinos ignore the huge costs we will have to bear for infrastructure improvements and ongoing public safety. Miami does not need to become a magnet for the type of undesirable individuals who are drawn to a gambling community, where crimes such as murder, prostitution, robberies and drugs become more prevalent. According to the Detroit Free Press, several communities near casinos reported more child neglect and spousal abuse.
We have made great strides over the years. We have become a destination for regional and hemispheric bank headquarters and financial institutions from all over the world and are on the cusp of establishing a viable bioscience presence. These types of businesses, which create quality positions paying significant salaries, are non-existent in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
When casino supporters speak about jobs, they fail to state that the average salary of these “thousands of jobs” (many of which would be transferred to Miami from their other casinos) would average $33,000 a year, as Genting’s President Colin Au told me. That is hardly enough to buy a home or educate one’s children. This is not to denigrate our hard-working residents or any job. I know how tough times can create difficulties for our people. I merely seek to compare businesses and the potential futures they offer. Research has shown that more local businesses and jobs are lost to a community as a result of destination resort casinos than are created.
Miami benefits from world class culture. Art Basel Miami Beach, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, is universally recognized as the premiere art fair in the United States and will bring to our community 40,000 visitors from all over the world. The new Miami Art Museum now is under construction and the Museum of Contemporary Art has announced a major addition. Our Miami Science Museum will be built soon. Miami also has gained greatly from all the events at its world-renowned Adrienne Arsht Center, including becoming the winter home of the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the five great orchestras in the world.
And who can forget the wonderful addition of the Frank Gehry New World Center, which recently opened in Miami Beach to heralded acclaim or the Miami City Ballet and New World Symphony Orchestra, both of which are recognized worldwide. None of our civic and cultural achievements is compatible with a Las Vegas/Atlantic City/ Singapore gambling mecca. The Genting Group’s Singapore casino is located on an island and there are major restrictions on residents from entering the casino. Monte Carlo has become a refuge for tax evaders and a haven for white-collar criminals.
Lowell and others protest South Florida’s Indian gaming, store-front “games of skills” enterprises and pari-mutuels as being unregulated and frequented only by locals. Their cure? Bring in big-time gambling for well-heeled tourists! This is a non-sequitur. Why isn’t enforcement of existing laws the cure for any illegal local gambling, if it exists?
If we accept the reasoning that three casinos will generate $6 billion of investment plus 30,000 jobs, why not have 10 casinos to generate $18 billion of investment plus 90,000 jobs? Why stop at three?
What are we afraid of? If it is the destruction of our quality of life, as I suggest, then shouldn’t we prohibit big-time gaming casinos entirely? Our state legislators should not risk destroying our community.
I fear that passage of legislation sponsored by Rep. Erik Fresen and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff not only will transpose Miami into another Las Vegas and our state into another Nevada. It will create a malignancy that will attack our wonderful, culturally diverse community that we have worked hard to create. Sure, we have a way to go to strengthen and protect it. We are working on that. However, we must guard against any supposed quick fix.
Norman Braman is a businessman and civic leader.