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Miami Casino Hotel Plot Thickens as Developers Michael and Gil Dezer
Believe Their Oceanfront Property in Sunny Isles is a Better Bet

By Douglas Hanks, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 05, 2011--The developers that brought Donald Trump to Sunny Isles Beach want to lure a casino there, too.

Michael and Gil Dezer see their oceanfront land as a better bet for gambling than the downtown Miami vying for state casino licenses. The father-and-son team are quietly pushing their 22-acre site north of their Trump high-rises as a natural spot for vacationing gamblers, and are in talks with Las Vegas casino operators to partner in a venture, Gil Dezer said Tuesday.

"Why would you not want to put a casino hotel on the beach?" Dezer said in an interview. "The beach is why people come to Miami."

Dezer, president of the development company his father started, declined to share many details about the casino push. He has reached out to elected officials in Sunny Isles, and said he is ready with a Vegas partner to pursue a gambling license should state law change to allow non-Indian casinos in Miami-Dade County.

His comments add another major South Florida developer to the mix of players pursuing casinos in hopes the political stars will finally align to allow full-scale gambling in Florida resorts.

The gambling derby started in earnest five months ago when a Malaysian casino giant paid $236 million for The Miami Herald headquarters in downtown Miami. Genting Group announced plans for a $3 billion casino resort there, with 5,200 hotel rooms and 20 restaurants.

This week, the operators of the Las Vegas Sands casino emerged as the force behind a second bid for a downtown Miami casino, with Hallandale's Gulfstream Park seen as a likely casino suitor, too.

The positioning depends on the gambling industry persuading state lawmakers to drop past resistance to non-Indian casinos.

Other resorts and developments that may qualify for a casino license, including Miami Beach's Fontainebleau, have multiple lobbyists on the payroll. But Dezer said his company hasn't hired one. Instead, he would rely on a casino partner to handle the politics of the venture.

"We've talked to all of the big guys from Vegas," he said. "They're showing interest. But nobody knows where this thing is going."

Sunny Isles is a relatively narrow barrier island north of Miami Beach divided by one major north-south highway, and is best known for its steep condo canyon facing the ocean. The city's mayor, Norman Edelcup, said he didn't think Sunny Isles could handle the traffic that comes with a mega casino.

"My gut reaction would be Sunny Isles Beach is not an appropriate location for a casino," Edelcup said. "I don't think we have enough space."

At the start of the 2000s, the Dezers signed Trump to a string of licensing deals for condominium and hotel towers along the Sunny Isles oceanfront. The towers made the duo the leading developers of Sunny Isles Beach. Now they want to put a casino on about 22 acres of land north of the Trump Royale condo tower.

The site would include the Dezer-run Thunderbird and Golden Nugget motels on the 18400 and 18500 blocks of Collins Avenue, and stretch across Collins to parking lots the Dezers own next to a Publix grocery store there. Dezer said the land could accommodate a 2,200-room hotel.

Dezer contends that an urban casino like the one Genting proposes will target South Florida gamblers, while an oceanfront casino will focus on vacationers. "We want to go after the tourist dollars, not the local market," he said.

Genting portrays its $3 billion resort as a major draw for global tourists. In a statement Tuesday, Genting said it welcomed casino bids from other developers, arguing that awarding three casino licenses in South Florida is "best for consumers and the Florida economy."

Dezer declined to say which operator is a likely casino partner for his family. But he did rule out one big name in the casino industry: Donald Trump. The celebrity developer's name still shines from Atlantic City casinos -- the Trump Taj Mahal, the Trump Plaza and the Trump Marina --but Trump controls just 10 percent of the company that owns them.


(c)2011 The Miami Herald

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