In response to a controversial proposal by the owners of Magic City Casino to open a jai alai fronton and poker room in Miami’s Edgewater neighborhood, city officials want to draft new zoning regulations that would require gambling facilities to go through a public hearing process and obtain a super-majority vote from the Miami City Commission.
City commissioners voted 4-0 on Thursday to authorize Miami City Manager Emilio Gonzalez and the planning department to begin working on amendments to the Miami 21 zoning code that would define what gambling facilities are and where such facilities can be located in the city. It would also require four out of five commissioners to vote in favor of any future pari-mutuels, casinos, or card rooms.
Commissioner Ken Russell proposed the legislation after learning that the state’s division of pari-mutuel wagering recently awarded a permit to West Flagler Associates, the entity that owns Magic City Casino, to operate a “summer jai alai” site on land owned by Crescent Heights at 3030 Biscayne Boulevard. West Flagler would lease the property from Crescent Heights and would also include a restaurant and poker room.
Several prominent businessmen and developers, including Jorge Perez, Craig Robins and Norman Braman, have come out against the new gambling facility.
Russell said the city does not have a mechanism in place that requires gambling facilities to go through a public process that would vet any proposed development or give the city the ability to reject the location of a new casino, pari-mutuel or card room. He said adding the regulations ensures residents have a role in deciding whether they want gambling facilities in their neighborhood.
“It sets a high bar, but it allows [gambling] uses to happen,” Russell said. “When an applicant has something ‘as of right,’ there is no public hearing necessary. A use like this should have a public hearing, and the ability for this body to weigh in.”
Ron Book, West Flagler’s attorney, warned commissioners that his client would likely sue if the new regulations are adopted and the city then moves to revoke any permit approvals obtained by the pari-mutuel company. “If we end up in litigation and you lose, you could have a triple-figure judgment [against the city] and the ability to build whatever we want in the future,” Book said. “Why would you roll the dice unnecessarily? We don’t believe this proposed resolution stops us.”
Book requested city commissioners defer a vote on Russell’s resolution until September to give West Flagler, led by the Havenick family, time to work with Miami’s planning department on a solution.
However, Stephen Helfman, a lawyer representing Perez and Braman, said West Flagler was trying to stall the city from taking action. “This is a bunch of bluffing,” Helfman said. “I think we should start this process. They are attempting to stall the process so they can begin [obtaining approvals] so they can file that lawsuit they are threatening.”