Miami Chamber of Commerce endorses casinos By DOUGLAS HANKS
The Miami Herald South Florida’s largest business group votes to push for bringing casinos to the region, provided local governments and workers get a share of the new business.
In a rare closed session, the Chamber said it ”conditionally supports” casino resorts under several conditions. Along with the referendum and local tax requirements, the Chamber said it would require casinos to fund efforts to mitigate damage caused by the new facilities, including social issues and infrastructure costs. Joe Raedle / Getty Images Photo By DOUGLAS HANKS dhanks@MiamiHerald.com The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday endorsed bringing casino resorts to South Florida, throwing the weight of the region’s largest business group behind the push to expand the state’s gambling laws. A resolution adopted by the Chamber’s board includes provisions that are stricter than the current industry-backed bill under consideration in Tallahassee. The Chamber wants Florida to mandate a local casino tax, local hiring, equal treatment for existing casinos at racetracks and jai-alai frontons, and countywide voter approval for new casinos. Even with the conditions, the Chamber vote may represent the biggest local endorsement yet for a casino proposal that has divided businesses across South Florida. Trade groups representing the construction industry have already endorsed the casino bill, while local business leaders, including Carnival CEO Micky Arison, auto magnate Norman Braman, Beacon Council president Frank Nero have lined up against it. Penny Shaffer, the healthcare executive who serves as Chamber chairwoman, said the board sees a casino bill as helping a battered economy.“Obviously we believe it’s jobs. We believe it’s more tourism. We believe that it has the potential for collateral benefits across the community,’’ she said after a luncheon where the Chamber released its legislative agenda for 2012. In voting for casinos, the Greater Miami Chamber broke with its statewide counterpart, the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Backed by the Disney, whose Orlando theme parks would face competition by South Florida casino resorts, the state Chamber has been leading the fight against the gambling bill in Tallahassee. Some Chamber board members opposed the casino resolution, but Shaffer said the vote wasn’t close. The Chamber had been expected to endorse the casino push, with leaders seen as leaning toward that position and surveys at two Chamber events showing attendees mostly supported the new resorts. Gregory Bush, a University of Miami history professor helping organize opposition to the casinos, called the Chamber vote predictable and misguided.“It’s bad for business in the long run,’’ Bush said. “It seems [Chamber leaders] don’t grasp the serious social costs of such a large expansion of gambling in our area.”The Tallahassee bill is designed to bring as many as three $2 billion casino resorts to South Florida. It would not require a referendum in Broward or Miami-Dade, or reserve any of a 10 percent casino tax for local governments. It also would leave existing casinos at racetracks and frontons paying their current 35 percent tax. To add on a local gambling tax, lawmakers would need to either reduce the money coming into Florida coffers from the new casinos or increase the proposed 10 percent tax, which would be one of the lowest in the country. Lobbyists for the casino industry have pushed back against a recent proposal to raise the gambling tax to in the bill 18 percent. Andy Abboud, head of government relations for the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which wants to build a casino, hotel and convention center in downtown Miami, called the 18 percent tax a “non starter” during a meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board on Wednesday. Though Sands began pushing for a Miami location shortly after Florida signed a 2007 deal with the Seminole Indians to operate larger casinos, the gambling debate revved up in May when Genting, a Malaysian gambling company, announced plans to build a massive casino resort on the Miami waterfront. Genting paid $236 million for The Miami Herald’s headquarters, and later purchased the adjoining Omni commercial complex, which includes the Chamber’s current offices. In selling its property to Genting, the Herald negotiated a deal to remain in the building rent-free through the spring of 2013.Shortly after the Chamber vote, Genting issued a statement praising the decision.The vote “demonstrates the strong consensus that exists among business and civic leaders who recognize the benefits these projects will bring to our community,’’ read the part of the statement from Resorts World Miami, the name of the proposed $4 billion Genting project.Chamber leaders approved the half-page casino resolution as part of a larger package of positions that will guide its political strategy as it presses for laws at the state and federal level. Chamber president Barry Johnson said the group does not hire lobbyists, but regularly recruits members to press Chamber positions with lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington.
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