South Florida Poised for Birth of Casino Gambling
By FRED A. BERNSTEIN
Published: December 27, 2011
MIAMI — When the Florida Legislature returns from its holiday recess, it will consider a bill to allow three Las Vegas-style casino resorts to be built in the southern part of the state. Lobbyists for the gambling industry have swarmed Tallahassee, trying to ensure that the bill passes.
A developer, Genting, bought the Miami Herald building, and hopes to build Resorts World Miami, a casino-luxury hotel.But the mere possibility of casino gambling has already had an impact on commercial real estate in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. The biggest single move came last May when Genting, a casino company based in Malaysia, bought the Miami Herald building, overlooking Biscayne Bay, for $236 million.
Genting released designs of what it hoped to build on the site: an extravaganza called Resorts World Miami, which in addition to a casino could have up to 5,000 guest rooms, 1,000 condominiums, 100 restaurants and luxury shops and a 3.6-acre rooftop lagoon that looks like something from “The Little Mermaid.” The project would cost $3.8 billion, according to Christian Goode, the president of Resorts World Miami. (The bill requires an investment of at least $2 billion per project.)
And last month, the CIM Group, a real estate investment company based in Los Angeles, bought a stake in a partnership that plans to develop Miami Worldcenter, a 21.9-acre mixed-use project in downtown Miami.
The partnership has received master plan zoning approval for a nine-block, 11 million-square-foot development that, according to its news release, “could easily accommodate a gaming component.”
The Miami Worldcenter site is now mostly parking lots and weeds. Plans for that development were announced in 2008, but the project was shelved when the recession hit. Sissy DeMaria, a publicist for Miami Worldcenter Associates, a joint venture between the South Florida-based Falcone Group and Centurion Partners, wrote in an e-mail that — unlike the Genting complex — “the Miami Worldcenter has all of its permits in place
and is ‘shovel ready.’ ”
Already, the casino operator Las Vegas Sands has expressed interest in operating a gambling-based resort at Miami Worldcenter, Andy Abboud, the vice president for government affairs for Las Vegas Sands, wrote in an e-mail.
And Genting has continued its buying spree, spending several hundred million dollars on parcels adjacent to the Miami Herald site.
One of the purchases was the Omni, a mixed-use development that includes 1.5 million square feet — much of it a defunct mall — and a 2,700-space parking garage, where it said it could get a slot machine casino up and running in a matter of months.
Colin Au, a Genting principal, told The Miami Herald, “The Omni is what’s called a decorator-ready solution.” He said Genting was taking “a calculated risk,” in buying the properties before the Legislature has voted on the gambling bill.
Mr. Goode of Genting wrote in an e-mail that the company would develop Resorts World with or without gambling, but that the timeline would be “significantly accelerated” should the Legislature approve the casino component.
The Omni facility would resemble the Resorts World facility that opened at Aqueduct racetrack in Queens in October with some 5,000 video “slot machines” and electronic games, including baccarat tables managed by robotic dealers. Genting estimated that the proposed casino at the Omni would create 5,000 jobs, while its entire Resorts World project would create about 30,000.
But the mega-resorts could be bad news for established businesses in the Miami area, because they tend to provide their customers with everything they need under one roof.
“They’re going to be saying, ‘Here’s a free room, go downstairs and gamble,’ ” said Marty Z. Margulies, a prominent South Florida developer, explaining why other area hotels might lose business from gambling, rather than gain it.
The development of one or both resorts could also threaten the Miami Beach Convention Center, which at 640,000 square feet is considered too small for many gatherings. Genting plans to include some 700,000 square feet of meeting space in its Resorts World complex, while the Miami Worldcenter developers have floated the number 1.5 million square feet.
Either would be serious competition for the Miami Beach facility, which each year hosts Art Basel. It was once the nation’s fourth-largest center but is now the 27th largest.
In part to compete with the possible newcomers, Miami Beach is considering an expansion of its center. The giant firm Arquitectonica (which is also designing the Resorts World complex) was hired by the city to study the possibility of doubling the size of the convention center; its report estimated the cost of the project at $648 million.
It is unclear where Miami Beach will get the money. The city manager, Jorge M. Gonzalez, has been meeting with potential partners, one of whom, the casino magnate Steve Wynn, offered to pay the entire cost of the new center if he could build his own casino near it, according to news reports.
But just two weeks ago, the Miami Beach Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to oppose the gambling expansion. (The state law would require local approval before a casino can be built.) The vote brought cheers from a standing-room-only crowd, which included local business owners.
One major hotelier said the decision could put Miami Beach at a disadvantage. “If casinos are approved for the city of Miami, Miami Beach should have the opportunity to have casino gaming in a luxury resort right on the beach,” said Phil Goldfarb, the president of the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, which with 1,500 rooms is by far the city’s largest hotel.
Gambling’s effect on residential property values is another question. Properly planned, “casino development would enhance real estate values in South Florida,” said Philip Spiegelman, a principal of ISG, a realty company that provides marketing for large condominium developers. (Mr. Spiegelman has a partnership with the Related Group; that company’s chairman, Jorge M. Pérez, was one of the sellers of the Omni Center.)
But Diane Lieberman, a leading condominium broker in Miami and Miami Beach, said she did not think the arrival of gambling would have any effect on the condominium market. She said she and her husband, Alan Lieberman, learned that lesson the hard way, buying about 10 houses in Atlantic City when gambling became legal there. “The prices didn’t go up,” she said, adding that gambling “didn’t improve the area. It just added casinos.”