Opposition to casino gambling bill getting stronger

Paola Iuspa-Abbott

2011-11-30 12:00:00 AM

Walking down the streets of downtown Kuala Lumpur, Grace Solares says she saw very few tourists eating at

local restaurants or shopping at the Petronas Twin Towers. Early this month, Solares was part of a group

attending a convention at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre — nearly 45 minutes away from the city’s

main recreational destination, the Genting Highland. The sprawling resort boasts more than 10,000 hotel rooms,

a casino, convention and exhibition space, a theme park, a skyway, performance halls, restaurants, clubs and

shops. Buses drive tourists from the airport to the resort destination on a mountain peak and then back to the

airport, she said.

“The impact that that project has on Kuala Lumpur is visible … the downtown is empty… it is a ghost town,”

Solares asserted. She is a founder of Miami Neighborhood United, a coalition of neighborhood associations in

Miami.

Solares said her six-day trip to Kuala Lumpur cemented her opposition to a casino resort destination bill that

would allow three massive casino resorts in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. She fears the casino destinations

would suck the life out of existing businesses and hurt entire neighborhoods that now benefit from tourism.

Solares is part of a grassroots movement that is beginning to organize with one goal in mind: kill the bill being

pushed by the Genting Group, Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts Limited and other casino operators that are

eager to make South Florida the next Las Vegas. The Florida Legislature will vote on the bill during the 2012

session beginning in January.

Malaysian-based Genting has already acquired nearly 30 acres in downtown Miami, where it plans to build a 10-

million-square-foot casino and entertainment resort. The project, called Resorts World Miami, is planned for the

site now occupied by the Miami Herald, east of Biscayne Boulevard and north of Interstate 395.

“It is not hard to figure out that whoever goes there is not going to come out and subsidize the businesses around

the area,” Solares said. “You are not going to have people go to Little Havana to eat arroz con pollo. You are

going to have the arroz con pollo right there. Tourists won’t go to have ceviche on 7th Street and 38th because

you are going to have the Peruvian restaurant there.”

Her group, Neighborhood United, is hosting a free casino forum in Miami City Hall on Dec. 14. She hopes to

recruit neighborhood associations at that event to help with the fight to defeat casinos.

Genting representative Chris Goode said his company has a developed a plan to protect local businesses. He

said casino goers collect points when they gamble and those points can be redeemed at local restaurants.

“Two to three dozen restaurants already signed up to participate,” Goode said Tuesday in an interview at a

gambling forum conducted by the Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce. He said the list of Miami area

participants is growing.

The Forge of Miami Beach, City Hall in Miami and Garcia’s Seafood Grille and Fish Market on the Miami River

are among the signees reported by Genting.

“The Forge and Garcia’s are also considering opening a second location at the Resorts World Miami,” said Tadd

Schwartz, a Genting spokesman.

Lobbyist Nick Iarossi said his client, Las Vegas Sands, would cater to out-of-state travelers attending large

conventions.

That business model would bring new patrons to the area, rather than taking commerce away from existing

restaurants and hotels, he said Tuesday.

‘Cannibalistic industry’

Former state Sen. Dan Gelber counters that resort destinations are designed to keep visitors inside their walls,

providing little benefits to existing businesses and most likely stealing their business away. Gelber recently

became chairman of the grassroots South Florida No Casinos to help organize the opposition, which until now

has remained largely silent.

“Gambling is basically a cannibalistic industry,” Gelber said. “It preys on people, hotels, restaurants and other

businesses,”

Last week, his group hired a South Florida coordinator and a statewide executive director to reach out to

community groups and business leaders for support.

Gelber said opposing the massive expansion of gambling is “almost a business decision.”

Disney-backed No Casinos is lobbying elected officials to kill the bill and plans to become a forum for residents to

speak up and let Tallahassee know how they feel.

“The Florida Legislature needs to know that South Florida is not for this,” said Gelber, a lawyer and former federal

prosecutor who is volunteering his services to No Casinos. “Gambling proponents are trying to create the

perception that South Florida wants casinos and that is not true.”

Opponents fear gambling would create a spike in crime, divorces, personal bankruptcies and other social

problems.

Many of their concerns are based on a 2009 report published by the Congressional Quarterly, a publication

owned by The Economist Group. The report, based on data from the FBI and the Census Bureau, showed

Nevada had the highest rate of divorces, robberies, violent crimes, car thefts and personal bankruptcies in the

country. Nevada, lagging behind New York, had the nation’s second highest cost per capita in police protection.

Goode said the opposition blames gambling for everything, “except terrorism,” because they need to be educated

on the benefits of resort destinations.

“Let’s sit down and talk about the facts,” he said.

Grassroots organizing

Gregory Bush, director of the Institute for Public History at the University of Miami and an associate professor of

history, recently revamped his website, http://www.commonsensemiami.com, to feed the casino opponents.

“It is kind of a coalition building,” said Bush, also vice president of the nonprofit Urban Environment League in

Miami. “At this stage, we don’t need a lot of money. We just need to bring people out of the woodwork to email

elected officials and do things like that.”

In the blog, he posts news articles, essays and opinion by him and community leaders, including car dealership

mogul Norman Braman and developer Armando Codina.

Bush said the UEL, which is against expanding gambling, plans to host a free casino forum on Dec. 10 in

Wynwood to help fuel the grassroots movement.

“I am nervous about it,” he said. “We don’t want to have Genting busing in all sort of people paying them $50 to

demonstrate, which happens sometimes.” (To read the entire article visit http://www.dailybusinessreview.com)

 

Copyright 2012. ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.

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