What a Miami MLS Franchise Means for Waterfront Casino Plans

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Casino execs have itching for a piece of the action in Miami, and David Beckham may have just made their lives a bit more difficult.

A motley crew of casino execs including Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands, Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts and Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay of Genting have set their eyes on a waterfront casino in sunny Miami. The only hang-up? In accordance with American gambling laws, Florida only allows casinos to operate on Indian land. In 2010 Adelson proposed a $3 billion project in anticipation of the law being changed to allow commercial casinos. The proposed bill failed to pass the state legislature, and Indian tribes kept their monopoly on table games. A proposed waterfront stadium for David Bechham’s new football franchise in the city makes the chances of casino expansion look even smaller. Sands and Genting lobby to no avail

Adelson personally met with Florida Governor Rick Scott to lobby for the casino expansion bill. After its failure he turned his focus toward fighting online casinos in America and his investments in Asia, while an Asian investor moved in to carry the torch of commercial legalization in Florida. Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay of the Malaysian firm Genting felt bullish enough to purchase $500 million worth of prime real estate on the waterfront. Why? In the hope of lobbying the government to allow them to build a casino.

• A bill to legalize commercial casinos was defeated in the Florida state legislature in 2011

• Genting purchased $500 worth of property in Miami with the hope of lobbying the government to grant them three casino licenses; so far they have been unsuccessful

• Casino plans have been further complicated by David Beckham’s plans to build a waterfront stadium

The company announced plans to build three resort casinos, projecting that they would create a combined 100,000 jobs for the city and provide $250 annually in tax revenue to the State of Florida.
Genting’s strategy is to attract international gamblers to what it refers to as “destination resorts,” in essence hubs for foreign tourism. With Miami sometimes dubbed as a “South American city in North America,” it appeared to be a decent strategy.

Three years later, the investment looks like money wasted. None of the land it purchased has been developed and it is still waiting for the state government to revise current laws and grant them a casino license, which is starting to look increasingly like waiting for manna from heaven. This has been further complicated by David Beckham’s recent announcement of his intention of building a waterfront football stadium.

MLS comes to Miami

Last year English football legend and former MLS player David Beckham and a group of investors dubbed “Beckham United” purchased an expansion franchise for what will be the league’s 22nd team. He has chosen Miami as his preferred location and courted Lebron James as an investment partner. Earlier this month he announced the Port Miami waterfront as the preferred location for the franchise’s stadium, the cost of which has yet to be determined.

The stadium is expected to seat 25,000 and be built in the steep style of European football venues, giving spectators the feeling that they are close to the action. The roof will cover the seating areas, providing protection from the hot Florida sun as well as its frequent rain.

The team is yet to be named, has not hired a coach, and currently has no players. It has not even been announced when it will be launched. There are also some reasons to be pessimistic, not least being that Miami’s previous MLS team folded after four seasons bringing in the lowest attendance in the league. That hasn’t stopped Beckham, who is bursting with enthusiasm:

“We’re planning to bring a team that will be a global team. I want to create a team that we can start from scratch and I am going to work hard for this city to make this team very successful. It is an exciting time…We will bring great players in. The fortunate thing about my career is players are already interested in coming to Miami.”

While football has been gaining traction in the US for some time, Beckham clearly fancies himself as an ambassador of the game, someone who can use his charisma and business acumen to bring the sport to unprecedented heights.

Implications for a waterfront casino

Beckham’s waterfront venture spells bad gambling news for Genting and other interested casino firms. If land is purchased for the stadium it will reduce the pool available for a potential casino project. In addition, it sends a clear message that gambling is not needed to invigorate the city’s economy. While the stadium is unlikely to be a serious draw for tourists (which a resort casino is expected to be), it has the potential to stimulate the local economy by creating construction and service sector jobs.

The investment group also plans to build a shopping center, concert venue, nightclub and numerous restaurants in the immediate area. Beckham’s real estate advisor John Alschuler had this to say: “The port of Miami is the right place because it will create a great stadium, it will energize downtown, it will create jobs and economic value.”

Granted, Beckham has not yet obtained waterfront property. The waterfront is one of four spots tabbed as potential locations for the stadium. Beckham and his group seem set on it, but there is no guarantee that they will get their way. If they do, the chances of casino execs and the people of Miami seeing a resort casino, which were small to begin with, will get even smaller.

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