Community comes together on gaming issue

Gaming Forum Panelists: Russell Galbut, Crescent Heights; Lyle Stern, Koniver Stern Group; Isadore Havenick, Magic City Casino; Former Senator Dan Gelber; Representative Erik Fresen. Moderated by Steve Litz, NBC Miami

At the Gaming Forum sponsored by the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, the panelists and the community acknowledged a basic fact: there is much to be learned about any proposed gaming on or near Miami Beach. Mayor Bower set the tone by welcoming everyone to the learning experience. “I will bet that you will leave here having learned something you did not know” were the Mayor’s opening remarks. She went on to emphasize that the community “needs to look at everything and how it will affect you”, although she qualified her statement by saying she is philosophically against gaming.

Moderated by Steve Litz of NBC Miami, the Miami Beach Convention Center was filled with over two hundred residents of all kinds, long time community activists, and resident business owners representing several generations of Miami Beach natives, including Litz who welcomed everyone to his childhood playground, his father having managed the Convention Center years ago. Litz reminded everyone that the future of the Convention Center was tied to the issue at hand.

Scott Savin, COO of Magic City and former President of Gulfstream Park gave an overview of the state of gaming in the region, in an effort to separate fact from fiction. He likened the big casino players arrival to a lightning rod and made it clear that gaming was already in South Florida stating that the road was paved. With the proposed regulatory and development criteria, Genting Group would see 2017 as the earliest operational date. With that being the only public proposal brought by a developer, it was the topic of discussion as opposed to any other speculators.

Representative Erik Fresen, sponsor of HB487, stated that the bill clearly gives the locals first approval. If the City has a vote on the books against gaming most likely developers would not even apply was his response when asked about the City of Miami Beach’s stand on gaming which is currently opposed. His comments extended an insight into the particular language in the bill and his intent that the mandatory investment of $2 billion for development ensures that a gaming venue would be a “Fontainebleau rather than a Golden Nugget”. Later in the discussion Fresen asserted the city suggests to developers that “instead building a new convention center they should revitalize the existing convention center, nudge the applicants to have a holistic effect on the Herald site”. He closed by stating that “handcuff the future on the fears of the present.”

Former Senator Dan Gelber was adamant that the developers of gaming venues would be compliant at the onset but any gaming would lead to a rebranding of the destination. In comparing Las Vegas and Atlantic City, Gelber stated that the East side of Miami is not a depressed area and the proposed venue would “suck the life out of a good community – you should be very worried”. When asked what would be his approach if the bill passes, Gelber refused to contemplate the option saying “what would I do? I don’t want it here, I don’t want it there, I don’t want it anywhere”.

Isadore Havenick, VP of Gov. and Political Affairs for Magic City Casino commented of the historically argued issue to Gelber, “When I was twelve and my father and your father were having the same debate”, his viewpoint was that “being responsible with how you regulate opposed to going to nuclear war”. He went on to attest that due to increased police presence, crime has gone down in the community surrounding Magic City and has increased employment by 500 jobs.

Lyle Stern, President of Koniver Stern Group a commercial real estate firm with holdings in Miami Beach and Miami, truly believes in the organic growth and cautioned against “unchecked unfettered and undiscussed impacts on tourism which affects 40 percent of Miami Beach if it passes, the city cannot be put in the position that we cannot negotiate”. He stated that other areas where there is gaming could not be compared, “they will lower their rates as low as they can and will become Sawgrass Mills where they can’t find the exit, also the profits don’t stay here – go to Malaysia which is incompatible with who we are and who we want to be.” When asked about the upcoming City resolution, he stated he “would not have liked that the Commission take the opportunity from me to give direction to the legislature“. Russell Galbut, a founding partner of Crescent Heights and one of five generations of Miami Beach natives, reminded the attendees that Miami Beach had a dog track on 1st street and was impacted in the 80’s, “we would not be here today if we weren’t adaptable and we cannot allow ourselves to fall behind but should be relentlessly focused on keeping it the best city. In order to do so we need to know with great specifics what is being proposed for Miami Beach and Miami and if what it can bring is more than what we will have without it.” He went on to state that he “is not endorsing gaming, but endorsing open discussion and everyone’s right to vote. The key is to share information and let everyone vote responsibly in a democratic way. For the Commission to make their own decisions without proper and thorough debate is a disservice, this is the first opportunity to educate and have an open discussion”. He went on to commend the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce for undertaking the Gaming Forum.

The Gaming Forum was developed by a committee comprised of Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce leadership: Immediate Past Chairman of the Board and Gaming Committee Chair Aaron Perry, Committee Co-Chair Wayne Pathman, Executive Board member Stephanie Ruiz, Incoming Board Chair Alan Lips, Board Member Lyle Stern, Board Member Scott Savin, Board Member Izzy Havenick, and Board Member Alexander P. Heckler.

The committee is in the process of developing additional educational opportunities. The event was open to the public and admission was free.

For a copy of the legislative bill please visit: and click on Gaming Forum. For more information on the event please contact 305-674.1300.

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