Genting Launches New Florida Strategy

Genting Resorts World announced plans for a slots-only casino at the former Miami Herald property it bought in 2011. Malaysia-based Genting would partner with Gulfstream Park racetrack (l.) and use the permit granted to Gulfstream's nonprofit subsidiary. At issue is whether the permit allows operations in two counties. State regulators are expected to rule against it.

Genting Launches New Florida Strategy

Malaysia-based Genting Resorts World recently announced they hope to open a slots-only casino-resort at the 14-acre Biscayne Bay property they purchased in 2011 for 6 million from the Miami Herald. To make it happen, Genting Resorts World would enter into a four-way partnership that would allow them to use a permit owned by Gulfstream racetrack to open a slots casino.

If approved by Florida legislators or state gambling regulators, the Resorts World property would offer 2,000 slot machines and off-track betting. Proceeds would go toward thoroughbred purses at Gulfstream’s racetrack as well as to the nonprofit Gulfstream Park After Racing Program, which benefits Florida horse breeders, owners and trainers. Genting and Gulfstream would keep some of the revenue as administrative fees.

“I think it’s game-changing,” noted Lonny Powell, chief executive officer of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association. “This is the first partnership where the revenue stream and investment would actually go back into the horses.”

At issue is that Gulfstream’s property straddles the Miami-Dade and Broward county lines. Therefore, Gulfstream officials argued, the permit it obtained last year for the nonprofit Gulfstream Park After Racing Program allows it to operate in both counties. The nonprofit would run horseraces at Gulfstream, and Resorts World would manage slot and card room operations at the downtown property. State regulators rejected that plan and told Genting that legislators would have to clarify the law, or parimutuel regulators would have to change their ruling. Otherwise Genting could file a lawsuit.

The plan is much smaller than the $3 billion luxury destination casino Resorts World proposed in 2011. Resorts World, which also owns the Hilton Hotel a block away from Herald site, plans to build three condo towers, a waterfront promenade and a 500-room luxury hotel, about a tenth of the original 5,000-room proposal.

Resorts World Chief Financial Officer Christian Goode said, “That’s one plan we would have obviously have loved to pursue but we continue to look for all opportunities. I wouldn’t say it’s a disappointment. This is just one opportunity or potential opportunity. If it’s not viable, then we’ll pursue other means.”

Added Genting lobbyist Brian Ballard, “Genting, over the past couple of years, has decided to look at this with a fresh set of eyes. They’re not closing out the destination resort option at all.”

However, Ballard noted, legislators have rejected destination resorts twice before. If it’s no approved in the upcoming session, even after a comprehensive review of the state’s gambling laws, “it’s probably not going to happen,” he said.

Resorts World Chief Financial Officer Christian Goode agreed.

“We think we’re one of the preeminent gaming companies in the world. We’re looking for a way to move the initiative forward. Goode said.

Meanwhile, Gulfstream President and General Manager Tim Ritvo said the new agreement is “the single most important thing that’s happened to thoroughbred racing in a long time. Our ownership is heavily, heavily invested in horse racing.” The $1 billion industry supports tens of thousands of jobs throughout the state. Ritvo said the proposed slots-only casino “is the alternative. This is the compromise where we can create new industry or a new casino that really helps subsidize the industry that has been here for many, many years.”

Still, for now Florida law specifies that slot machines must be located at the same place where parimutuel activities occur, said attorney Wilbur Brewton, a lobbyist for Calder Casino & Race Course. Separating slots from racing or jai alai would be “a dramatic change in the philosophy” of gambling law, he said. “If they issue a permit that allows this to happen, it will draw a legal challenge. I guarantee it. This is an expansion of gambling.”

In response, Ritvo stated, “Obviously it’s understandable that other facilities would try to oppose it because who would like increased competition? We hope we can get enough legislators to look at this and understand the true purpose of this permit is not to benefit any one entity, whether it’s Genting, the breeders or even the racetrack. It’s about to energize and revitalize the racing industry.”

When asked for his response to the proposal, Governor Rick Scott said, “I know that the legislature’s going to be looking at gaming. And I look forward to working with the legislature on any issue like that.”

Legal experts believe the Seminole tribe, which contributes about $100 million to state coffers each year would be on solid ground to end that agreement should the Genting plan come to fruition.