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Miami Herald: Miami Chamber of Commerce endorses casinos

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce will lobby for bringing large-scale casinos to South Florida, provided that some of the gambling taxes go to local governments and county voters can decide the gambling issue by referendum. The requirements for the proposed casinos approved by the Chamber board go further than the current pro-casino bill being considered in Tallahassee. But the endorsement by South Florida’s largest business group could be a milestone for the casino industry’s push to establish a new market in Miami.

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.

The Chamber resolution also calls for casinos to hire 75 percent of their workforce locally, ratcheting up an earlier draft of a resolution that called for 50 percent of the workers to come from the local community. Chamber leaders approved the half-page casino resolution as part of a larger package of positions that will guide its lobbying team as it presses for laws at the state and federal level. In the gambling item, the Chamber also called for the “concept of parity” for pari-mutuels. That refers to racetracks and jai-alai frontons, which want to pay the same gambling tax and be allowed to offer the same table games as the new bill would give mega casinos. The language appears to be a rewrite that may favor new casinos, as the earlier draft stated simply: “There will be ‘full parity’ for existing pari mutuels.”

Shortly after the Chamber vote, the Malaysian casino company proposing a nearly $4 billion casino resort on the Miami waterfront 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 Genting project slated for land that currently houses the Miami Herald and the Omni complex.

In selling its property to Genting, the Herald negotiated a deal to remain in the building rent-free through the spring of 2013.Though expected, the Chamber vote highlights how the gambling question has divided many of Miami’s business leaders. The Chamber joins local trade groups representing the construction industry in endorsing more casinos. The Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s economic development agency, has remained officially neutral on the issue but its director, Frank Nero, has been a leading voice against the casino push. Norman Braman, a wealthy auto magnate with luxury dealerships in Miami, is organizing opposition to casinos.

Statewide, the Florida Chamber of Commerce is the primary organizer in the effort to defeat the casino bill. Disney, which would face significant competition from Miami casino resorts, is the top backer of the Chamber.


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