It's been nearly two years since Genting, the Malaysian gambling giant, revealed its grandiose plans for building a 10 million square foot casino and entertainment complex right in the middle of downtown Miami. Since then, the plans have gone from the ridiculous to the sublime.
The latest news is that Genting might take as long as a decade to build a casino at Miami's Omni complex and former home of the Miami Herald. And the plan for the Resorts World Miami project may not even include a casino at all, instead opting to build condos, a hotel, and shopping and dining center.
But with an economy that's still not fully recovered, why aren't we welcoming a casino in the middle of Miami? After all, some argue, it would bring renewed life and business.
According to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), a non-profit, hospitality industry trade association based in Tallahassee with over 10,000 members, that's baloney.
In fact, the FRLA's president and CEO Carol Dover issued a statement in response to a 320-page state Gaming Impact Study by Spectrum Gaming Group that was released July 1 by the State's House Select Committee on Gaming. The state commissioned Spectrum, an independent research firm based in Linden, New Jersey, to issue a two-part report on gaming in Florida at a cost of about $400,000, according to Fox News Tampa Bay.
Though the study does not make recommendations, it does compare Miami Beach to Atlantic City, stating that "The introduction or expansion of legalized gambling, in particular casino gambling, raises a variety of concerns. Although casinos are often introduced in order to raise tax revenues, create jobs, and spur economic development,
many observers have a concern for the potential 'substitution effect' of casinos. That is, they are concerned that the expenditures at the new casino(s) will be redirected from other local or regional businesses, with the end result that the casinos have no real net benefit on the local economy."
Using Atlantic City as an example, Dover said, "Policymakers and the public should know that 40 percent of restaurants and a third of retail establishments are going out of business in the wake of casinos opening there. They should know that crime skyrocketed and the population actually shrank."
Dover explained that, "the practice of providing free or heavily subsidized room nights and meals -- a standard practice in the casino industry -- is not competition. It is a predatory business practice that would hurt Florida businesses -- particularly those that are a part of our hospitality industry."
That means that a small boutique Miami hotel or an independently-owned restaurant could never compete with a large casino providing subsidized gambling junkets or comped meals. Instead of lifting up these small restaurant, a giant casino could wind up squashing them.
Genting's Miami casino dreams may be a decade down the road -- or not at all. But the FRLA's statement should be a reminder that a casino is not a "quick fix" for a neighborhood and could potentially drive out the small businesses that make Miami unique.
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