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Miami Herald: Genting deals winning hand for Miami

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


As the epicenter of the nation’s Medicare fraud and capital of assorted con men, scam artists and Ponzi schemers, we should be extremely leery of newcomers who roll into town making big promises. We’ve heard such promises from the likes of David Paul, Sheik Mohammad Al-Fassi, Allen Stanford, Nevin Shapiro and Scott Rothstein, to name but a few. As I was taught to say years ago, you trust your mother but cut the cards.

So when a Malaysian conglomerate named Genting came to town last May and plunked down $236 million for the Miami Herald property I was impressed but skeptical. As Butch said to Sundance, Who are these guys? What’s their plan? What’s their track record? Would they go forward without a casino, which is an integral part of their properties in Asia?

In recent days we’ve started to get answers — impressive ones — and my skepticism has all but evaporated. Genting cut the cards and appears to have dealt themselves and us a winning hand. They want to build a massive hotel, convention, condo and retail complex on Biscayne Bay that would change the face of Miami. Oh yes, it also has a casino, but that doesn’t appear to be its raison d’etre, just its profit center.

Genting and its chairman, K.T. Lim, know a thing or two about profits. And they’re willing to invest a bundle of their bankroll in Miami. After buying the Herald property for $236 million, they quietly snapped up other adjacent properties and capped off their buying spree with the Omni Center, whose mortgage is $206 million. It looks like Genting has gotten into the game by investing hundreds of millions just for real estate.

In addition they’ve hired some top flight Florida professionals to move the project forward starting with Arquitectonica, which created the undulating coral reef-inspired sculptural design. I don’t know whether I like it, but it sure makes a statement. One important part of the statement, as architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia explained to me: Patrons won’t have to walk through the casino to get to any of Resorts World Miami’s, hotels, shops or restaurants.

Colin Au, a Genting principal who speaks colloquial English, called the Omni a “strategic acquisition” to prove to the Legislature that Genting is serious. If lawmakers give the go-ahead in the next session to four or five destination casinos, Genting could get one up and running lickety-split — 5,000 employees, $100 million in tax revenues — at the Omni long before they tear down the Herald building to put up their Taj Mahal.

And here’s the thing that makes all this different from the aforementioned crooks, con men and scam artists: Genting has a track record that indicates they do what they promise. Two years ago Genting opened Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore, which could be the archetype for the Miami project, sans roller coaster and theme park. Judging from what one can see on its web site, Resorts World Sentosa is a first-class operation. Colin Au says it gave a huge boost to tourism in Singapore and predicts Resorts World Miami — along with a second destination casino run by another company — would do the same thing in Miami. A third destination casino would be licensed in Broward.

There will, of course, be opposition. The Indian casinos will rise up along with the Orlando theme parks and many religious leaders. But I somehow doubt that many high-profile political and civic leaders who’ve fought legalized gambling in the past like Jeb Bush and Armando Codina would sign up for a new anti-casino campaign.

Not even our seven local parimutuels may put up much of a fight. A top executive at one of them, who attended a briefing on Resorts World Miami, tells me his local clientle is unlikely to spend much time or money among the high rollers at Resorts World Miami. “As long as I get to keep my (gambling) products,” the executive said, “I don’t think we’d be harmed.” He would, however, expect to see their 35-percent gambling tax lowered to about 25 percent. Genting is said to be hoping for a 10-percent tax rate, which seems a bit low.

The upside is billions of tax revenue and thousands of jobs. Genting says Resorts World Miami would put 15,000 people to work in the construction phase and employ 30,000 full-time once it’s built. “And these are good jobs,” Colin Au says. “They’d pay $30,000 to $50,000 a year.” That’s a strong incentive for a governor who promised to create 700,000 jobs in seven years.

Florida voters have repeatedly said No to casino gambling. I voted No every time. But since the last referendum the state has entered into deals with the Indian casinos, and the parimutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward are going full blast. Gambling is here and won’t be going away. If we’re going to have more of it, authorizing four or five upscale destination casinos in the state that would cater mainly to tourists, employ thousands of locals and produce billions in tax revenues seems to be an idea whose time has come.

We need a lot more information about Genting and what they propose to build. But my first impression is favorable. Genting gets a green light.

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