Miami casino deal could have a benefit - Wednesday 1st of October 2008

In polite company, we would talk about the shabby streets north of downtown Miami in terms of poverty and disrepair and official neglect.

But for reporters sent in to cover murders or police shootings or strange doings, it was the sheer screaming danger that devoured the imagination. Outsiders venturing into those crazy streets were left with an indelible impression of hopeless desolation. And an urge to get out fast.

Old memories of a forsaken place made the plans that emerged last week to put a casino on those same streets seem somewhere between surreal and crazy. And a lot more intriguing than South Floridas other casino schemes.

So far, the promised benefits of Broward racinos seem scarce. The 2004 campaign to allow slot machines at South Floridas parimutuels was dubbed ``Yes For Better Schools.

Voters said yes, and Florida schools have since descended to a national ranking of 49th (and sinking) in spending per student.

A deal negotiated last year by the governor to extract at least $100 million a year from the Seminole casinos was tossed by the Florida Supreme Court.

STATEWIDE DISTRIBUTION

Three more racinos in Miami-Dade will be adding their own banks of slot machines. But slot taxes are distributed statewide. Millions more will be sucked out of the South Florida economy and distributed among all 67 county school districts.

The lousy formula wont get fixed if voters allow the Miami Worldcenter to add a full-blown Vegas-style casino to a 25-acre mixed-use development in the once scary reaches west of Biscayne Boulevard. But unlike the other casino operations, the public could get something out of this deal.

The Miami Heralds Mary Ellen Klas and Matthew Haggman reported that the projects investors have already spent $850,000 and hired 13 petition-gathering companies, pollsters and a gaggle of lawyers with an eye toward putting another gambling referendum on the 2010 ballot. Reportedly, theyd sweeten the deal with casinos at the Fontainebleau Hotel and the long-dormant Hialeah Park racetrack and table games at the other racinos.

TANGIBLE STUFF

But its the downtown casino and an accompanying development of bars and restaurants and shops and hotels that boggles the mind. All that new stuff would be, at least, tangible. Gambling revenues have only given the Legislature another excuse to fund schools on the cheap. This -- this would be something real.

But the Worldcenter plan would bring the usual opposition in a statewide campaign -- business and church conservatives together with liberals who see gambling as a repressive tax on working folks. That coalition managed 49 percent of the vote in 2004. Since, the threshold for a constitution amendment has been raised to 60 percent.

And any new gambling venture in South Florida would now face well-funded opposition from racinos and the Indian casinos.

I have no hope it would pass, lamented Bob Jarvis, Nova Southeastern Universitys resident expert on gambling.

So the fanciful plan for a rough stretch of Miami will probably come to nothing more than an unanswered question: If were stuck with casinos, shouldnt the community get something out of the deal?

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