Miami Beach Mayor Fights Against New Guidelines That Could Bring More Casinos To Florida

Written By Steve Schult on March 1, 2023
Miami Beach mayor fights against more Florida casinos

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber worries that new federal guidelines could result in more Florida casinos.

Consequently, he contacted the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs to lobby against these new procedures.

According to a report from the Miami Herald, Gelber sent a letter to the agency Tuesday claiming the plan “can and will facilitate and hasten the introduction of off-reservation Indian gaming casinos.”

Under the current legal landscape, there are seven Florida casinos. The Seminole Tribe owns and operates six of them. The Miccosukee Tribe runs the other.

However, Gelber believes these new guidelines would give an easy avenue for other tribes to acquire land and build casinos. He is especially worried about it happening in his district.

What does the DOI want to implement?

Last December, the DOI published possible revisions to current regulations with federally recognized tribes.

One would further clarify and define the agency’s role in approving tribal gaming compacts. However, Gelber seemed more concerned with the updated “land-into-trust” protocols.

Under the proposal, tribes can buy off-reservation land and put it into a trust. Then, the tribes can reap the same benefits and exemptions from state and federal law on that land. One of those benefits is the ability to build and operate casinos.

“This proposed rule represents a seismic shift in policy that will allow casinos and gambling operators to force casinos into cities,” wrote Gelber. “Notwithstanding well-founded and long-standing objections, and regardless of how incompatible they may be with the local economy and quality of life.”

The DOI was accepting written comments from the public until March 2. Gelber sent the letter just before the deadline passed.

On the other hand, the DOI doesn’t see it like Gelber. When the Bureau of Indian Affairs released the rules, assistant secretary Bryan Newland said the rules were just another step to help right past wrongs.

“Taking land into trust on behalf of Tribes is critical for Tribal sovereignty, self-determination, preservation of history and culture, economic development, well-being of Tribal citizens, and to help right the wrongs of past policy,” wrote Newland in a press release.

Would these changes increase the tribal gaming footprint?

It appears this question is up for debate among legal minds.

One school of thought believes the new rules would remove certain regulatory powers from the state.  By contrast, the other camp believes they won’t change much. The rules would not allow Indian gaming that already required federal, state or local approval.

If the former camp is correct, a recent move by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians will pay off handsomely. The Alabama-based tribe, under its PCI Gaming corporate umbrella, purchased Magic City Casino from West Flagler Associates.

The tribe could expand the offerings at the Miami pari-mutuel facility if these laws drastically change the gaming landscape.

Gelber is staunchly opposed to Florida gambling expansion

It’s no surprise Gelber took this stance. The Democratic Mayor is one of the most outspoken anti-gambling advocates of any political figure in the Sunshine State.

Gelber previously penned a letter to the DOI in June 2021. He sent the letter shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe agreed to the new gaming compact terms.

In the 2021 letter, Gelber said the compact set the stage for non-tribal interests to build casinos in his city. There is language in the compact that states the tribe must not object to gambling operations further than 15 miles away from its Hollywood casino.

Gelber used that section to argue it would allow former President Donald Trump and Fontainebleau Miami Beach owner Jeffrey Soffer to bring casinos to their Miami Beach resorts.

Regardless of Gelber’s personal beliefs, Miami Beach has already banned casino gambling. According to Miami Beach ordinance 2017-4104, “gambling and casinos are prohibited in the City of Miami Beach.”

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Steve Schult

As Managing Editor of PlayFL, Steve will stay on top of all things related to the Florida gaming industry. He is also a veteran of the gambling world. The native New Yorker started covering high-stakes tournaments in 2009 for some of poker's most prominent media outlets before adding the broader U.S. gaming market to his beat in 2018.

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