Real estate developer and billionaire Jeffrey Soffer reportedly wants to bring gaming to Miami Beach. And he’s throwing his money around to make it happen.
According to a Miami Herald report, Soffer made several sizable donations to lawmakers to lobby for a casino in Miami.
Soffer owns Fontainebleau Miami Beach, an expansive resort on South Beach. It features 1,504 rooms and 11 restaurants. Additionally, it’s a staple of the Miami Beach skyline. The American Institute of Architects named it to their “America’s Favorite Architecture” list. The property was originally developed in 1954.
Soffer’s money has lawmakers listening
The Turnberry Associates CEO has wanted to bring gaming to Miami Beach for several years. Soffer purchased Hallandale Beach’s Big Easy Casino in 2018. Since then, Soffer lobbied state officials in Tallahassee to allow gaming at the Fontainebleau.
Each time, he came up empty-handed. However, he put some serious cash behind his latest push. Soffer donated more than $300,000 to the Republican Party, political action committees and certain local lawmakers.
Here are some of his recent donations:
- $50,000 to the Republican Party of Florida last September.
- $25,000, to the Florida Senatorial Republican Campaign Committee last June.
- $10,000 gifted to political action committees associated with Miami-Dade County lawmakers: Reps. Bryan Avila (R-Miami), David Borrero (R-Sweetwater), Demi Busatta Cabrera (R-Coral Gables), Tom Fabricio (R-Miami Lakes), Alina Garcia (R-Miami), Juan Porras (R-Miami), and Sens. Alexis Calatayud (R-Miami), and Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Miami).
Just a few months after his donations, Sen. Blaise Ingoglia introduced legislation that would allow owners of existing gaming permits to relocate to another location as long as it was within 30 miles of their current address. Ingoglia pre-filed SB 1054 last December before the 2024 legislative session started in early January.
Given the geography and legal landscape of Florida gaming, this would most likely impact Miami Beach.
Seminole Tribe has casino exclusivity but likely won’t fight any moves
Florida restricts Las Vegas-style casino gaming to properties operated by the Seminole Tribe. The tribe owns and operates the state’s six casinos, including two well-known Hard Rock-branded properties in Tampa and Hollywood.
The tribe also runs Hard Rock International, which owns the Hard Rock brand, and has casinos and sportsbooks in several states. Under the multiple iterations of the Florida gaming compact, only the tribe can operate Las Vegas-style casinos.
In other words, all other entities are pari-mutuel facilities, regardless of whether it calls itself a casino, and the Seminoles are the only ones allowed to offer house-backed games. However, voters approved initiatives in Broward and Miami-Dade counties allowing pari-mutuels in those areas to have slot machines as well.
Normally, the Seminole Tribe would fight these moves. Bringing gaming to Miami Beach would hurt the tribe’s business endeavors. But in the latest compact approved by the state in 2021, the Seminoles added craps and roulette to their facilities, and own Hard Rock Bet Florida, the sole online sportsbook in the Sunshine State.
Furthermore, the compact makes it likely the tribe would own the entire Florida online casino market if legislators add those to subsequent deals.
As a result, they agreed to stay quiet against most gambling-related legislative moves.
“As part of the deal, the Seminoles agreed to increase their monthly payout to the state,” Nova Southeastern law professor Bob Jarvis told CBS News. “But they also agreed that they would not raise any objections to any casinos, for lack of a better term, that would be built in South Florida so long as those new facilities were at least 15 miles from their gambling hub in Hollywood.”
The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach falls outside the 15-mile radius around the Hollywood casino.
Is there even support for a Miami Beach casino?
Efforts to bring a casino to Miami face stiff opposition.
“They’ve been trying for years,” John Sowinski, president of No Casinos told the Miami Herald. “Miami Beach is among the most anti-casino jurisdictions anywhere in Florida because they’ve so often been the target for a casino.”
In 2017, Miami Beach voters approved a measure that banned gambling expansion to Miami Beach. The city’s politicians have typically been against it as well.
Last March, former Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber penned a letter to the federal government protesting new guidelines that could’ve brought casinos to his district. Gelber left office at the end of 2023 when his term ended.
His successor, Steven Meiner, also opposes any gambling proposals.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican serving his second term, has expressed his opposition to casinos or gaming in Miami. In 2020, Suarez vetoed a deal that would have allowed cardrooms in the Miami community. Suarez has also previously indicated that gambling is a threat to young people.
Soffer opens a Fontainebleau casino on the Las Vegas Strip
The move comes as the Fontainebleau brand is gaining recognition in the gaming space.
In December, Soffer was front and center during a ribbon cutting for the grand opening of the Fontainebleau Las Vegas. The resort casino is on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip, and it cost an estimated $500 million.
The resort is a 67-story complex with 3,644 rooms, as well as a 150,000-square-foot casino, and several entertainment stages. The grand opening featured a multitude of celebrities, including Cher, Kim Kardashian, Justin Timberlake and Tom Brady.
The Fontainebleau Las Vegas may serve as a model for what Soffer hopes to see on South Beach in Miami: a luxury resort with a gaming floor that serves to attract world-renowned entertainment.