River of Cash

The Miccosukees' $50 million swampside gamble showcases alligator rasslin' and traffic galore

A keen interest in Superpick Lotto precipitated the next debacle, which unfolded in the casino's original gaming room that's connected to the new complex by a long carpeted passageway. A woman holding a wad of twenty-dollar bills was incessantly hitting the play button of a lotto machine. The jackpot had grown to $50,000 and was climbing. "This is $2.50 a push," explained a female casino attendant queried by New Times. Then she looked at New Times's notebook. "Are you writing things down? You have to come with me," she said. She waved someone over and suddenly muscular security guard Mark McCray appeared. A press pass did not impress McCray.

"We need to go," he ordered. After some negotiation New Times was allowed to continue its intrepid work.

There was even more strife out at the Krome-Tamiami crossroads, where at about 8:00 p.m. interminable lines of traffic were still moving more slowly than pedestrians. Florida Department of Transportation Ofcr. Jorge Fernandez was barely surviving in the center of the intersection. The driver of a white four-wheel-drive truck inched forward. Fernandez motioned him to stop, but the driver again stepped on the gas. "Do you see me?! Do you see me? Do you see me?" the officer screamed, pointing his hands to his chest. His five-person traffic-directing crew was woefully insufficient. "If we had known it was going to be like this, we would have asked for at least ten guys."

A diverse spectrum of automobiles, partygoers, and tempers abounded on the south side of the Tamiami Trail as well, especially at the Dade Corners service station. Sometime during the evening the entreprenuerial owners had started charging ten bucks per vehicle for parking. Several car owners who had locked their doors and disappeared across the highway before the capitalist spirit took hold returned to find their cars towed. "We're losing business because people are parking here," insisted Dade Corners owner Jorge Almirall, as customers streamed in and out of his store.

Things grew even hotter as the Miccosukees' unbridled inauguration proceeded. At 10:30 the fireworks commenced. Offer Derby, a crackerjack pyrotechnics expert from Israel, launched the luminous projectiles from the hotel roof. Flaming embers rained down on the brand-new edifice, causing some spectators to wonder if it would ignite. In fact, it did. "There's a fire on a balcony!" a security guard yelled into his walkie-talkie as he crossed the parking lot. As the flames engulfed the veranda, the fireworks raged on. A long five minutes later, two men with extinguishers burst onto the burning balcony and reduced the blaze to a small black cloud. People gazed in awe. Steve Freedman, whose company Sparktacular put on the unregulated display, said rooftop launches are prohibited elsewhere in South Florida. "Up in Boca Raton you have a real hard time doing that," he explained. "They used to do that in downtown Miami, but they stopped it. Someone got scared."

Sometime between 11:00 and midnight the balance of crowd power switched. The stream of pedestrians walking to their cars was bigger than the trickle heading into the resort. A few people stopped to marvel at an alligator in the Tamiami Canal.

The Miccosukees weren't the only ones raking in the cash. Their new resort was also contributing to local small businesses in ways even Mayor Penelas couldn't envision. Across the road in front of the service station, Faustino Monteagudo was grinning like a hyena through the window of his Orange State Towing flatbed. "We had a great night," Monteagudo commented. He pulled across Krome Avenue for his seventh tow of the evening (at $35 each): a four-wheel-drive stuck in a mudhole.

Back in the second-floor bar, chairman Cypress was settling deeper into his lounge chair as money poured into the gambling machines below. "It's time for the next chapter," he said with a contented, but tired, smile.

kirk_nielsen@miaminewtimes.com

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