By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The prospect of bringing together Las Vegas and South Beach in some kind of unholy union is more tantalizing than a marriage between Kim Kardashian and (pick a pro athlete). And perhaps even more lucrative.
Blackjack, bikinis and beautiful people. Slots, sand and surf. Billions of dollars and hundreds of jobs. It’s pretty enticing stuff.
Since a Malaysian casino and resort company, the Genting Group, bought The Miami Herald property on Biscayne Bay in June for $236 million and subsequently announced it wanted to build a casino there, it has been game on.
Genting revealed plans for a 5,200-room, $4 billion casino resort, the largest in the world.
That was quickly followed by the Las Vegas Sands announcing it was looking into buying property for a possible casino in downtown Miami. Next thing you know, Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn is outside the iconic South beach restaurant, Joe’s Stone Crab, endorsing Miami Beach as a possible casino site.
“I think Miami Beach is, going away, the best destination resort city in America,” he told NBC6. “(Casinos) should have been here years ago.”
When companies such as Genting begin buying hundreds of high-priced acres and people such as Wynn start getting sentimental about convention centers, you can almost smell the money. Which means: Cue the politicians; it’s time for them to make an entry.
You see, none of those projects can happen without getting a gaming exception from the state. Without a bill being passed in Tallahassee. Where, not surprisingly, the multibillion-dollar projects have gotten plenty of attention, from both proponents and opponents.
But most of all, from lobbyists.
In fact, Gov. Rick Scott has called the casino bill(s), sponsored by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, the “lobbyist full employment act.”
He’s not kidding.
According to the Associated Press, more than 100 lobbyists have signed on simply to represent the gaming interests on both sides (the newcomers as well as Indian tribes already established in the gaming industry, such as the Seminoles, and dog and horse track owners). Those hundred don’t include the lobbyists representing real estate interests, religious groups, cities, clubs and restaurants, and whoever else might feel they’d be affected by new mega-casinos.
“Pretty much everybody I can think of in our profession is engaged,” said Brian Ballard, a high-profile Tallahassee lobbyist who is working for Genting.
Sounds like it’s time to ante up.