Friday, October 7, 2011

Law-makers gets go-ahead to debate bill on resort casinos

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's Genting Group seems a step closer to that casino licence it has set its eye on in Miami, going by the direction at which some law-makers are taking on expanding gambling in the state of Florida.

Legislation that may bring three resort casinos to South Florida's Miami-Dade and Broward counties cleared one hurdle on Thursday, Oct 6 after an appeals court said law-makers can decide to expand gambling without first seeking voters' approval, a local media reported.

The ruling, which affirmed a lower court decision, 'serves as a promising omen for the push by the world's largest gaming companies to bring resort casinos to Florida', The Miami Herald wrote Oct 6.

Two legislators ' Representative Erik Fresen and Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff -- have reportedly filed identical proposals that could make way for a beauty contest for three casino licenses where bidders will need to show they will invest at least US$2 billion in each facility.

A newly-created Florida Gaming Commission will evaluate bids and more marks will be given to proposals that create most jobs and is earlier in completing work, Bogdanoff was quoted as saying in the news report, adding that legislative lawyers will likely complete the bill by Oct 17.

Those marking standards may put Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay-led Genting Group in good stead.

When unveiling an artist impression for a US$3 billion resort that could redefine Miami's skyline on Sept 15, a Genting spokesperson had said works could be completed within three to five years, if it gets a casino license.

In fact, another spokesperson last month said Genting could open a casino with restaurants, bars and entertainment facilities as early as Fall 2012, if foreclosure of PROPERTIES [] in vicinity of the Omni Mall tied to some US$200 million worth of debt papers goes as planned.

Lim himself had reportedly said Genting expects to be ready to start site work on the land facing Biscayne Bay in Miami as early as Spring 2012, and the project could complete as early as Fall 2014. The project is expected to create up to 15,000 CONSTRUCTION [] jobs and employ 30,000 in the long-term.

Genting estimates that if two destination gambling resorts are approved for Miami, there would be a 30% growth in airline revenues ' 5.4 million more airline passengers and another US$2 billion in revenue for the airlines and US$170 million in additional fees for Miami International Airport.

In addition, the hotel industry could see a 50% gain in revenue or about US$1 billion, according to a Miami Herald report last month.

In Thursday's news report, Jessica Hoppe, general counsel for the Genting Group said 'Genting is hopeful that the legislature will act in the best interests of the Florida economy in the upcoming session.'

Among other things, the 90-plus page bill also limits each resort to only have a maximum of 10% of total square footage for gaming, and requires that gambling space be segregated from other attractions so that visitors can go about without having to see any gambling machines.

Tax for gambling operations is set at 10% on net revenues, reportedly the lowest yet for any gambling operation in Florida where slot-machine licensees pay a 35% tax rate on their slot games.

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corp Ltd too had said it was willing to invest US$3 billion in Miami.

His people, who've unveiled to select people 'comparable plans' to Genting's, have reportedly found a suitable site for what could house a Miami Sands casino-resort, if talks with owners of developer Miami Worldcenter pans out. Other big casino names that have reportedly shown interest in Miami include Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts.

Meanwhile, the Seminole Tribe, currently South Florida's largest casino resorts operator, is also interested in bidding for one of the full casino licences that may soon be up for grabs, its lawyer Barry Richard was quoted by Miami Herald as saying.

The tribe, which has committed to pay the state US$1.3 billion for the first five years under an existing 20-year limited gaming compact in return for monopoly of certain casino games, is also the operator of the Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood.

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