No Casino Gambling for Miami Beach Any Time Soon

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Miami Beach

While the prospect of casino gambling at one of the city's storied hotels is far from certain, beach leaders Tuesday approved a resolution opposing casino gambling -- fearing it might turn Miami Beach into a waterfront Las Vegas.

''Do we want casino gambling in Miami Beach?'' asked Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, who sponsored the measure. ``The answer I got from people is no.''

Illegal gambling flourished in Miami Beach during the first half of the 20th century. Over the years, gambling proponents have sought to resurrect the city's Rat Pack-appeal, noting the Beach's sunny weather and plentiful hotels are already a major tourist draw.

Florida's constitution currently bans casino gambling, and voters rejected calls for casinos in 1978, 1986 and 1994.

Two Miami developers are exploring a campaign to amend Florida's constitution through a possible ballot referendum in 2010.

The change would allow Las Vegas style casinos at the Miami Worldcenter in downtown Miami and the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach.

Commissioner Richard Steinberg was the only one who voted against the resolution, which authorizes City Manager Jorge Gonzalez and City Attorney Jose Smith to research ``any and all possible methods to oppose and prevent casino gambling in the city.''

''I don't think the commission should take a position on this issue without knowing where the residents stand,'' said Steinberg, who cited statistics showing that Beach voters in January approved slot machines for Miami-Dade parimutuels by nearly 2 to 1.

Steinberg joined the majority in passing a second resolution saying Miami Beach voters -- not voters statewide -- should have the right to decide whether casino gambling should have a place in the city.

Developers Art Falcone and Marc Roberts have set up a political group, the Committee for Critical Challenges, which has raised $1.2 million -- including $30,000 from the Fontainebleau -- to explore bringing casino gambling to Miami and Miami Beach.

Michael Caputo, a spokesman for the committee, said it was ''premature'' to respond to the commission's actions.

''Gaming is not a fait accompli,'' said Caputo, who did not attend Tuesday's commission meeting. ``We're nowhere near recommending gaming.''

But Nitin Motwani, project manager for the Miami Worldcenter, told three Miami city commissioners Tuesday that there is ''no gambling whatsoever'' planned for the 25-acre site.

Howard Karawan, the Fontainebleau's chief operating officer, declined to comment on the Miami Beach commission's actions. In a written statement, he said the hotel's ''100 percent focus'' is on the Fontainebleau's grand opening next month.

Karawan previously told The Miami Herald that the hotel's $30,000 contribution to the political committee is intended to pay for a poll gauging voters' opinions on gambling in general.

Other groups are expected to weigh in.

The Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, which has not yet taken a position, will discuss the issue, chamber president Wendy Kallergis said.

And the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club will talk about gambling at its meeting this week, moderator David Kelsey said.

Some residents and activists, who oppose gambling, said it would bring more traffic and crime to Miami Beach. ''Everyone I know is against it,'' said Henry Lowenstein, president of the Orchard Park Neighborhood Association.

Yet, others welcome it -- with conditions.

''I don't think there's anything wrong with it,'' Daniel Veitia, a North Beach activist, said.

``But there has to be security personnel on site, banking requirements and full disclosure of financials.''


Tania Valdemoro, Miami Herald

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