|By Andres Viglucci and Charles Rabin, The
Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 04, 2011--The Las Vegas Sands casino operators, apparently trying to muscle aside arch-rival Genting Group's plan for a Miami casino resort, are in discussions on a possible deal to develop a gambling resort with a group that controls eight blocks of downtown's Park West neighborhood.
The Sands operators, however, say they can make the deal work only if the Florida Legislature grants them an exclusive gaming license for Miami-Dade, Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said Monday, days after meeting with representatives of the Sands and partners in the Miami World Center group.
That tactic, if successful, would effectively stop Genting's plan for a massive gaming destination several blocks north on Biscayne Bay. Genting bought The Miami Herald's building and parking lots and is proposing to build a $3 billion destination gaming resort on the site.
"We are actively involved in negotiations,'' said Andy Abboud, vice president of governmental affairs for Sands, referring to the World Center Group. "We have looked at the site and we like it.''
A partner in the World Center group, Nitin Motwani, confirmed he met last week with Sands CEO and Chairman Sheldon Adelson, but said there is no deal in place and no fleshed-out plan.
"We do not have any deal with the Sands and we have not seen any designs,'' Motwani said Monday. "We have been approached by the Sands as well as other operators."
Sarnoff said he met last week with Adelson and Motwani's partner, Art Falcone.
"They described their resort concept. It's comparable to Genting," Sarnoff said.
Though Sands has publicly expressed interest in building a Miami casino resort, the discussions with the World Center group raise the stakes in what could turn out to be a war between two of the world's largest gambling operators for the local action. In meetings with state and local officials, Sands has been arguing that the market cannot support two gambling resorts in South Florida.
But Sands is not the only Vegas operator vying for a place at the South Florida table. Caesars Entertainment is said to be in negotiations with Gulfstream Park. And before any operator is granted rights, state legislators need to approve gaming. A plan being considered now would grant gaming rights to five regions throughout the state, including Miami-Dade. Legislators are also considering letting residents of those regions approve gambling through a public referendum.
The Sands' Adelson has been leading a charge to get gaming approved in Florida.
Last year he commissioned a study for legislators to show how much tax revenue the state would collect if gaming were allowed. He said he'd be willing to invest as much as $3 billion on a Miami casino.
This year Adelson and Genting hired a troop of lobbyists to push a bill creating a casino selection process that would allow them each a chance to bid on a license to operate an exclusive resort in five Florida regions. Though the bill failed, legislators approved a $400,000 study to look at the economic impact of casino gaming, which was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.
Genting, which bought The Herald property for $236 million, has managed to assemble nearly 30 acres of downtown property, and has announced its own plans for a $3 billion development called Resorts World Miami. The move is a big gamble for Genting, since state law needs to be changed to allow casinos to operate.
The World Center group has been searching for ways to develop its properties -- which comprise most of the area bounded by North Miami and Northeast Second avenues, and Northeast Sixth and 11th streets -- since the recession effectively killed the group's plan for a massive mixed-use office and residential project on the site.
Sarnoff, whose district includes downtown Miami, has been working with the group to develop other options, including a convention center and hotels.
Genting, which last month unveiled an extravagant plan for four hotel towers, two residential high-rises and a massive resort and casino on The Herald site, has said it would proceed -- though far more slowly -- even if gambling is not approved.
But Sands says its economic model would not work without gambling legislation, and it would not be in a position to enter into a deal absent that.
"We have ongoing communications with [the World Center group] but we have to have a bill in the Legislature,'' Abboud said. "We're going to keep our options open.''
Miami Herald Tallahassee writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.
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