MIAMI — Count Doral among the latest Miami-Dade cities to erect defenses against casino politics as the prospect of gambling — and a Trump-branded casino — creeps closer.
The Doral city council on Wednesday voted 4-0 to ban gambling and casinos from the city unless approved by residents in a referendum, weeks after Gov. Ron DeSantis negotiated a $500 million gaming deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Critics believe the compact was tailored to allow casinos at properties such as the Trump National Doral Miami resort or the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel, which local officials fear will bring negative impacts to their communities. DeSantis has dismissed those concerns as “idiotic politics,” noting that a special gaming session of the Florida Legislature came and went last month with no move to allow casinos in either location, but local politicians remain concerned about future efforts.
The gaming deal, among other things, stops the Seminole Tribe from objecting to the transfer of existing slot machine licenses to anywhere 15 miles from its flagship casino in Hollywood, language that opens the door to former President Donald Trump purchasing a license and transferring it to his Doral golf resort.
The Trump Doral resort is about 18 miles from the Hollywood casino and is run by Eric Trump, who told The Washington Post in March that a Doral location would be “unmatched from a gaming perspective.”
“We wanted to make sure we weighed in,” Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez told the Miami Herald before Wednesday’s vote. “We will take whatever steps necessary.”
The Doral council approved an emergency ordinance May 12 banning casinos in city limits. Wednesday’s vote to pass the same legislation on a nonemergency basis is part of an effort by city officials to further fortify Doral’s legal position against efforts down the road to license a casino in the city.
Officials in Doral and Miami Beach have been bracing their cities for weeks against the prospect of casinos in their jurisdictions. In April, as the 60-day legislative session in Tallahassee started to wind down, Doral’s lobbyists were watching closely to see if there would be any movement on gambling. Once it was clear lawmakers would head into a special session to pass gaming legislation, the city started drafting language leaders said would protect Doral’s “family friendly” aesthetic.
Local gambling bans alone may not be enough. Miami Beach, which banned casinos in 2017, retained law firm Shubin & Bass to help fend off any attempts from the Legislature to bring gambling to the city.
Mayor Dan Gelber said the city is wary that state lawmakers may try to pass a bill that preempts a local governments’ ability to ban gambling.
“We’re not waiting for it to happen before we hire someone,” Gelber told the Miami Herald on Tuesday, speaking about the decision to hire Shubin & Bass.
He said the state’s recently approved sports gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe clears a path for Jeffrey Soffer, the owner of the Fontainebleau, to transfer his casino license from The Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach.
“Obviously the fact that the 15-mile barrier was included in the compact is a pretty good expression of the intent of the governor and Legislature to give him what he wants,” said Gelber, who wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior asking that the government reject the gambling deal.
At a bill signing in Key Biscayne last week, DeSantis scoffed at allegations that the law was written to benefit Trump or Soffer.
“Is there any basis to say that? ... That is just pure, idiotic politics,” he said when asked about Gelber’s letter. “Some of these partisan politicians are always trying to elevate themselves with any cheap headline they can get, trying to inject Trump into this ... they just can’t help themselves.”
In April, Miami commissioners also voted to draft legislation that would ban gambling inside city limits following a legal settlement that cleared a path for the owners of the Magic City Casino to open a poker room and jai-alai fronton in Edgewater. The gambling ban has not yet been scheduled for a commission vote.
Bermudez said all mayors should be concerned over the new gambling law, and that local communities should have a say in what opens there, “not the state or other interests.”
“We are making it clear that the home rule aspect of it is something we will fiercely protect,” he said.
Armando Codina, whose firm is responsible for developing downtown Doral and other major structures like the Doral Charter Elementary School and Doral Government Center, has been vocal in his concern about a potential casino and supported the ordinance.
“The most important thing is the ordinance is saying it should be up to the city of Doral voters, that’s who should decide. Tallahassee should not decide. We know what’s better for our community than Tallahassee,” he said. “The communities have expressed clearly that they should not have gaming. If that went to an election, I will be the face of the opposition.”