Gov. Ron DeSantis says it’s “idiotic politics” to accuse the Florida Legislature of approving a gaming deal last month that would give Donald Trump and a Miami Beach hotelier an opportunity to open casinos in our backyard.
Perhaps we’re also foolish to believe, as some local officials do, that Tallahassee’s next step could be to try to shove casinos down our throats by stopping local governments from banning gambling in their communities. The Doral City Council voted for a ban on Wednesday. Miami Beach, which passed a gambling ban in 2017, is preparing to fight any state preemption efforts and has hired law firm Shubin & Bass.
Preemption is Tallahassee’s favorite go-to when the Legislature sees cities and counties taking actions that lawmakers and their donors don’t like, such as banning plastic bags or limiting cruise ships.
Call us idiots if you want — but we’re still wondering when the next shoe is going to drop.
If the intention isn’t to allow casinos at the Trump National Doral Miami resort, then why did the $500 million gaming agreement between state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida include a provision that prohibits the Tribe from objecting to the transfer of existing slot machine licenses to a location at least 15 miles from the Tribe’s casino near Hollywood?
Of course, Trump National Doral is outside that 15-mile radius. So is the the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel, whose owner, Jeffrey Soffer, wants to transfer his casino license from Hallandale Beach.
Soffer also donated more than $1 million to DeSantis, Republican lawmakers and some key Democrats, and hosted fundraisers on his mega yacht. But maybe Soffer just likes their company.
New casinos are an uphill climb
DeSantis says there’s nothing to see here.
“Is there any basis to say that? … That is just pure, idiotic politics,” he said last week. “Some of these partisan politicians are always trying to elevate themselves with any cheap headline they can get, trying to inject Trump into this … they just can’t help themselves.”
We hope the governor is right. But many who have watched the Legislature’s efforts to expand gambling over the years see it differently.
And yet actually getting casinos in Doral and Miami Beach would be a heavy lift. First, the Legislature would have to approve the transfer of slot machine licenses to those locations, John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, told the Herald Editorial Board.
That would likely draw a lawsuit claiming the Legislature’s move violates two constitutional amendments. The first one, approved by voters with a small margin in 2004, allowed Miami-Dade and Broward counties to decide whether to legalize slot machines in existing parimutuel facilities (thoroughbred and harness racing, greyhound racing and jai alai). The proponents of that amendment told the Florida Supreme Court at the time that slot machines would be allowed only at those existing facilities. The other amendment was approved in 2018 and gives voters the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in Florida.
Then, lawmakers would have to pass a law to preempt the local casino bans in Doral and Miami Beach, Sowinski said.
With all these hurdles and the potential of violating the state constitution, the possibility of a Doral or Miami Beach casino might feel far-off. But we’re talking about a Legislature that passed several bills this year that are already tangled in courts with plaintiffs claiming they are unconstitutional.
“Unfortunately, we live in a day and age… when legislators do whatever they want to do and the constitution be damned,” Sowinski said.
The gambling compact DeSantis signed with the Seminoles still needs approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Sowinski and Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, who wrote a letter to the department, argue the compact goes against the intent of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, whose “principal goal… is to promote tribal economic development, tribal self-sufficiency, and strong tribal government,” according to Congress.
Was it the act’s intent to also help out millionaires like Trump and Soffer? We don’t think so.