Miami Beach Candidate Steve Berke Wants Casino At Convention Center

Schemers and dreamers have plotted for years to bring gambling back to South Beach, once the site of high stakes poker games featuring the likes of Al Capone and Meyer Lansky. Sure, local and state laws stand in the way, not to mention what's likely to be heavy local opposition to increased traffic. But think of the cash to be made!

Add Steve Berke -- comedian and would-be next mayor of Miami Beach -- to the list of casino backers. Berke announced today his plans to advocate for a casino at the site of the Convention Center and pointed to a state bill that passed committee today as a way to make it happen.

The bill -- SB 2050 sponsored by Sen. Oscar Braynon from Miami Gardens -- would allow five "destination resort" casinos to be built around the Sunshine State.

Berke says the Miami Beach Convention Center would be a natural place for one.

"(It) could generate $80 million dollars a year in local taxes, allowing Miami Beach to cut property taxes" Berke said in a release.

Current Mayor Matti Bower has backed a resolution against gambling coming back to the Beach. Her spokeswoman, Rebecca Wakefield, says quality of life would suffer if casinos moved in.

"Miami Beach has a number of logistical concerns of the effects of such a mega operation on the quality of life here," she says. "Once you open the door, you'd better be prepared to deal with what comes through it. That means long-term planning for traffic, public safety and other infrastructure considerations."

The new gambling bill doesn't exactly face sunny odds in Tallahassee. Opponents are already pledging to kill the measure, which has two more committees to navigate before getting a general vote.

"I think that it really is just a sad day in Florida when we've now made the decision that the way we're going to fix our economy is by expanding gaming," Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, tells the station.

Berke's renderings of a casino:

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink