MIAMI
01/05/2012 12:36 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2012

Miami Casino Debate: Greater Miami Chamber Of Commerce Endorses Resort Gaming Bill

Citing economic benefits, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce jumped into the Miami casino debate Wednesday by endorsing with conditions the push to bring three gaming resorts to South Florida. One gaming expert says the influential organization's blessing doesn't make a difference.

"Will this affect whether we eventually pass a new gambling bill? Not at all. This is just another special interest group saying how its nest can best be feathered," said Nova Southeastern law professor Robert Jarvis. "Everybody is looking for how they can make the most money and spend the least."

In a closed meeting, Chamber members agreed to throw their support behind House Bill 487, but with the following provisions, according to their statement:

  • That the concept of parity at the taxing and gaming levels be allowed for existing pari-mutuels; and
  • That local governments receive a portion of state tax revenues generated to be used to mitigate for any impacts to the surrounding communities and to provide for improvements to public infrastructure, transportation, public utilities, services, reduce property taxes, etc.; and
  • That the holders of license enter into a public private partnership that contributes to the mitigation of the added social and infrastructure impacts on the community; and
  • That the applicants for destination resort licenses be required to have a workforce that is at least 75% local; and
  • That approval by a local referendum be required in the affected county.

The conditions are much more involved than those on the bill awaiting the opening of the state legislature, but Jarvis says the casino bill has no chance of reaching a floor vote in the 2012 legislative session as the state budget and complex redistricting must be decided first.

But supposing the bill did make the floor, would the Chamber likely get its way? Citing Atlantic City's failure to make good on similar promises, Jarvis says local workers won't get the jobs even if a local hiring requirement becomes law.

"We know that 75 percent or more of the people who work in Atlantic City are not from Atlantic City," he said. "At the end of the day, what casinos and all businesses will do is say 'we looked at the local pool and couldn't find qualified workers,' and get a waiver."

Genting Malaysia, the wealthy gaming consortium who purchased the waterfront Miami Herald building with plans to build a massive resort casino, heralded the endorsement in the usual promotional style: the vote “demonstrates the strong consensus that exists among business and civic leaders who recognize the benefits these projects will bring to our community," the company said in a statement to the Herald.

Chamber chairwoman Penny Shaffer told the paper Wednesday the vote was, in fact, all about the economy.

“Obviously we believe it’s jobs," she said. "We believe it’s more tourism. We believe that it has the potential for collateral benefits across the community."

The organizations's endorsement stands in opposition to the decided anti-casino positions of Miami Beach, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and other city business leaders. But Jarvis suspects Florida governor Rick Scott, who would not risk alienating the gambling-averse GOP faithful in north and central Florida, would veto any resort casino bill that may be passed under his watch -- making the mega-casino debate a non-story.

"There's now way you can do that political calculous if you're a Republican governor," he said. "This should be a story somewhere on page 19, just two or three paragraphs. It's like there's a hurricane 7,000 miles from Miami that has no chance of coming, but giving it two weeks of intense coverage."

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