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Big promises fill first committee hearing on resort casino bill

TALLAHASSEE — In the debut debate over the resort casinos bill Wednesday, the head of Genting Americas offered legislators glittering promises and pitches — from guaranteeing nonstop flights between Asia and Miami, to $1.7 billion in new revenue to the state, to the purchase of thousands of Disney World tickets for resort patrons.

But the sales job, including the creation of 100,000 jobs, seemed "over the top" to the Senate sponsor of the bill and even to some of the Las Vegas companies that also want a piece of the action. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, said Genting's presentation may have backfired on the company.

During the two-hour Senate Regulated Industries Committee workshop, potential competitors took aim at Genting's claims, and some took a swipe at the Bogdanoff's bill as well. The bill calls for allowing three resort casinos to be built in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Donn Mitchell, chief administrative officer for Isle of Capri Casino in Pompano, told the committee that unless the proposal allows Florida's existing parimutuels to operate the same games with the same tax rate as the new casinos, the industry will die and Florida will lose 15,000 jobs and $154 million in tax revenues.

"There is going to be significant cannibalization of existing facilities," Mitchell warned. The Seminole Tribe, faced with new competition for its convention and out-of-state business, "will turn against the weaker competitor" to peel off business from the parimutuels, he said.

Las Vegas Sands vice president Andy Abboud, whose company is interested in bidding for a casino resort license if the bill is approved, agreed there would be saturation with three resort casinos and urged legislators to take a "cautious, go-slow approach."

Colin Au, president of Genting Americas, presented committee members with a summary of an economic study the Malaysian-based company commissioned. The study forecasts total gambling revenue from three megaresorts at between $4.3 billion and $6 billion a year. By comparison, the Las Vegas Strip, long considered the hub of American gambling, generated $5.7 billion last year, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Abboud raised doubts about the wide disparity between Genting's numbers and a preliminary report by state economists last week that projected the three resorts would generate $980 million a year.

Au compared the area to Singapore, a city-state about the size of South Florida where two casino resorts have resulted in an exploding economy and a casino market that relies on out-of-state tourists for 70 percent of its clientele.

"I can assure you, senator, when we are up and running, you will find the impact of these three destination resorts to be even larger than Singapore,'' he said. "We do not eat people's lunch. We create lunch, dinner, breakfast for everybody."

Big promises fill first committee hearing on resort casino bill 11/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 10:58pm]

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