Casino bill sponsor predicts referendums for Broward, Miami-Dade
BY DOUGLAS HANKS
A bill designed to bring three massive casinos to South Florida will probably be amended to require local voters to approve the new facilities, the Miami lawmaker behind the proposed legislation said Thursday
Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said he expects a referendum requirement will be added to his bill in order to foil attempts by political leaders across Florida to lure the new casinos to locations beyond Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
“I believe at some point a referendum element will be added to this bill,” Fresen said during a meeting with Miami Herald reporters and editors. “And I don’t fear it. I think it will pass overwhelmingly in Miami-Dade County.”
Following Fresen’s comments, Genting, the Malaysian casino company pushing a plan for a resort on Miami’s waterfront, released the results of a poll showing strong support for large casinos in Miami-Dade County.
Asked for their opinion on plans to build a “destination resort with a casino in downtown Miami,” 57 percent had a positive response compared to 36 percent with a negative response. About 1,300 registered voters were contacted in the survey.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Dario Moreno, whose Miami polling firm conducted the survey the week of Thanksgiving for Genting. “I did the polling for the slots campaign. That is pretty much where the numbers were throughout that campaign. And we finished at 63 percent.”
Moreno was referring to the January 2008 referendum that allowed racetracks and jai-alai frontons in Miami-Dade to add slot machines, which passed with 63 percent of the vote. The victory followed a 2005 referendum in Broward that brought slots to racetracks and a fronton there.
The bill Fresen co-sponsored with Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, does not mention Broward or Miami-Dade in laying out the criteria for which counties could pursue the three $2 billion casino resorts authorized by the legislation.
The primary requirement that a county had already approved slot machines in a past referendum was intended to apply only to Broward and Miami-Dade. Shortly after the bill was filed, though, political leaders across Florida took notice of the opening and began talking about plans to hold a referendum in order to become casino contenders, too.
In the Florida Panhandle, Gadsden County plans a January vote to approve slots there. Palm Beach County and Tampa (Hillsborough County) are both talked about by casino companies as possible alternatives to Broward and Miami-Dade.
Fresen said the referendum requirement could make it easier to get the casino bill passed in Tallahassee. Bogdanoff, who joined Fresen for the Herald meeting, said she would support a referendum if it was needed to pass the bill.
Under Fresen’s scenario, counties outside of Broward and Miami-Dade would need two votes: the first to approve slots, and then a second referendum to approve the new casino resorts.
Fresen said the requirement would give Broward and Miami-Dade a head-start on pursuing casinos, because voters
in those counties could approve the new resorts as early as November 2012.
Fresen’s comments come on the heels of Miami-Dade County’s commission chairman, Joe Martinez, floating the idea of a non-binding referendum for Miami-Dade voters in January to coincide with the Republican primary. Commissioners declined to pursue the idea at their last meeting but may take it up this month.