Miami Herald: Miami-Dade moves forward with plan for slots at airport
Nov 4, 2009
The Miami Herald published this article on Nov. 4, 2009.
Despite long odds for approval, Miami-Dade commissioners agreed to apply for a permit to allow slot machines at MIA.BY JACK DOLAN jdolan@MiamiHerald.com
Let it ride!
After two hours attempting to reassure local parimutuel owners that the idea is a harmless long-shot, Miami-Dade commissioners voted Tuesday to apply for a permit to put slot machines at Miami International Airport.
The move, which faces a daunting regulatory battle in Tallahassee and fierce opposition from local gaming interests, is part of a mad-dash campaign to boost revenues at MIA. Massive debt taken out to finance the airport expansion threatens to swamp MIA in coming years. Current annual revenue of about $630 million will have to climb to $1.1 billion by 2015 to cover the payments, said MIA Deputy Director Miguel Southwell.
While gambling at the airport remains a notion in its infancy, Barbara Hecht Havenick, president of Flagler Dog Track and Magic City Casino, rose before the commission on Tuesday to try to smother it.
“We feel that we’ve been negatively impacted by just the aura of putting slot machines at MIA,” she said, adding that banks are reluctant to lend money to complete renovations to her casino due to the fear of competition from the county.
Several commissioners expressed doubt that slot machines secluded behind stringent airport security checkpoints could pose a credible threat to local racetracks.
Noting that you’d have to buy a plane ticket to get to them, Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz said, “If you’re willing to buy a plane ticket to play slots, we all know you’re flying to Vegas.”
The odds in Tallahassee seem stacked against the county.
Tuesday’s vote approved an application for a quarter-horse racing permit. Nobody seriously intends to run ponies at the airport, but with the horse permit comes the real prize — the ability to apply for a slots permit.
State officials have expressed their desire to close the quarter-horse “loophole,” Southwell said Tuesday.
Nevertheless, commissioners approved the application 9-3, with Katy Sorenson, Rebecca Sosa and Joe Martinez voting against the measure. Natacha Seijas was absent for the vote.
At one point in the debate Commissioner Carlos Gimenez asked Assistant County Attorney Jess McCarty to assess the county’s chance of winning approval in Tallahassee. During a technical sounding answer, Gimenez interrupted:
“Would you bet on it?”
“No,” McCarty replied.