BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO
Somebody ought to tell Genting that Miami is not Malaysia or Bimini.
In this country, courts don’t step in and legislate, nor do they pre-empt police and prosecutors from doing their jobs and enforcing laws. A frivolous lawsuit that will cost taxpayers money doesn’t buy you any friends either.
The gambling resorts giant insists on bringing casino operations to the waterfront downtown Miami property it purchased in 2011 in the Omni area, where the defunct Omni Mall used to cater to luxury shoppers and The Miami Herald building proudly stood.
The area, now a thriving arts district, is not territory poised to become gamblers’ row. But the Malaysian casino refuses to take no for an answer from local authorities, voters or the state.
After spending millions in political campaigns — and losing legislative battles to expand gaming in a way that would allow them to build the massive casino resort —– Genting’s Resorts World Omni is suing Miami-Dade County and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle to force the state to allow card games and slots in the old Omni mall space.
They’ve concocted a deal to get around a 2014 denial by state regulators to move a Gulfstream Park pari-mutuel permit to the Omni, and they’re asking a judge to declare it lawful — and to pre-empt police and prosecutors from filing criminal charges against what would be illegal Omni casino operators.
Enough already. Go away, Genting. Flip the land while it’s a boom market. The bust is always around the corner in South Florida’s storied real estate history. Take the money and run while you can.
In Bimini, the Genting gambling invasion was easier to ram down islanders’ throats despite predictable damage to the ecosystem. But here, the cards are stacked against the company — despite promises of a jobs bonanza when, in reality, the industry is moving toward cutting labor costs with automation.
This might have all gone away quicker had our politicians stood firmly against turning Miami into Las Vegas.
But city keys were handed out and Genting threw money at political campaigns up and down the state. The idea could have died permanently after the state commissioned a $400,000 study that didn’t endorse the expansion of gambling and mega casino resorts as a good thing for the state. Genting threw around more money into campaigns. They clearly expected a victory — and for the last five years the issue has been brought up by lawmakers in some form of legislation, but it has never come to pass.
Faced with public backlash, the obliging mayors of Miami and Miami-Dade came around and said, no thank you. Even the governor and Florida Legislature, which couldn’t care less about the fate of South Florida as long as they’re raking in revenues from us, have spared us (for the time being) from the quality-of-life-changer that Genting’s gambling dreams mean for the city.
“Advocates of a mega casino in downtown Miami could not convince the Legislature on the value of their project and are now resorting to a political stunt masquerading as a lawsuit, with Miami-Dade taxpayers suffering the consequences,” Democratic Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami said in a statement. “Their action should embolden those who have come together in our community against a mega-casino in our area.”
“It seems to be like a last ditch effort to get a slot house in Miami-Dade,” Frank Nero, president of Beacon Global Advisors, told me. “Destination Casinos have no real positive economic impact but slot houses, which this will be, are the worst. They prey upon the poor and elderly. Not exactly the high rollers from Asia on chartered flights that Genting initially promised. These type operations do not bring in incremental revenue. They tap into the existing tourism and locals disposable income. They need Miami-Dade. We do not need them, as we already have a vibrant tourism industry with high occupancy and high room rates that are among the best in the country.”
Their Tallahassee lawyers don’t think so, but the Genting lawsuit smacks of nothing but desperation.
Instead of adding to the clutter in our courts, Genting would do better to hire a babalao – a Santeria priest might be of help, Miami-style — to sell the land. The anti-gambling ghosts that presided over Miami in life are still roaming the town.