The Biscayne Times

Jul 22nd
Poker Face PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
July 2017

The owners of Magic City Casino want to open operations in Edgewater

TCasino_1he Genting Group’s desire to build a casino in Miami has been well known ever since the Malaysian company bought its first chunk of land and buildings in the Omni neighborhood from the Miami Herald’s parent company six years ago.

But Genting isn’t the only company that wants to bring gambling to the Biscayne Corridor. The Magic City Casino in West Little Havana is asking the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulations for a permit to operate a jai alai and poker facility in Edgewater, where the 54-year-old, five-story Chesterfield Smith Center for Social Justice building now stands, at 3000 Biscayne Blvd.

Unlike other gambling expansion initiatives, the state won’t require a special election for the jai alai’s opening. However, it may need approval from the Miami City Commission since the seven-year-old Miami 21 zoning code is silent on new gambling facilities.

Isadore “Izzy” Havenick, vice president of Magic City Casino, says his company is still in the early stages of exploring the possibility of building a gambling facility in Edgewater. There isn’t even a rendering for the proposed building, he notes.

“We were looking at areas in Miami where we thought that a card room and jai alai facility could do well,” says Havenick, whose company also owns a 25 percent stake in the Casino at Dania Beach, which includes live jai alai. “We think there’s already a huge entertainment district there, so we figured one more amenity to come to that area might be fun.”

Havenick adds that the proposed jai alai wouldn’t include slot machines. “Slot machines were assigned to seven specific sites [by the state] in Miami-Dade and Broward counties,” he explains.

Formerly known as Flagler Greyhound Track, Magic City Casino at 450 NW 37th Ave. -- along with Calder Race Course in Miami Gardens and Miami Jai-Alai (now Casino Miami Jai-Alai) near Miami International Airport -- was allowed to obtain slot machines after Miami-Dade voters blessed the move in January 2008. Magic City Casino has also hosted poker games since 1997.

“The legislature chose to add an eighth site in 2010 -- Hialeah Park has a slots license,” Havenick notes. “But we’re not asking for one [at Edgewater].”

Paul Seago, executive director of No Casinos in Orlando, is doubtful of Havenick’s claims. “When a pari-mutuel owner [racetracks and jai alai] says they don’t want slot machines,” Seago says, “I don’t believe it for a second.”

Casino_2That’s because slot machines earn far more money than any other gambling component. According to a report from the Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR), pari-mutuels across the state made $740.6 million from horse races, dog races, and jai alai matches in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. Poker rooms made $147.3 million during that period. In contrast, slot machines brought in $8.2 billion.

Magic City Casino’s owners aim to open an Edgewater gaming facility through a convoluted 1980 state law that allows pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to open “summer jai alai.”

Under that 1980 law, John Brunetti, owner of the Hialeah Park Racing and Casino, was able to build the first phase of a gambling facility called King’s Court in Florida City. King’s Court, which opened last month without a voters’ referendum, currently consists of a 17,600-square-foot jai alai facility, a five-table poker room, and a temporary Bingo trailer. Brunetti told the Miami Herald in March that he intends to get slot machines in King’s Court at some point in the future.

Havenick admits he isn’t sure if his company will get the permit to run a gambling facility in Edgewater. In 2005, Magic City Casino tried using the 1980 law for a new jai alai and poker facility, but the DBPR rejected the application.

Magic City Casino appealed the decision. After nearly 12 years, this past April 4, the First District Court of Appeal sided with Magic City’s owners and told the state agency to allow them to continue the application process, a decision that casino experts argue could open the door for several new summer jai alai permits in Miami-Dade and Broward.

John Lockwood, Magic City Casino’s Tallahassee lobbyist, filed an amended application for the Edgewater site two weeks after the court decision.

Less than a week later, on April 26, Jamie Pouncey, a permit administrator with the DBPR, notified Lockwood that there were 28 “deficiencies” in the application, among them the absence of a list of anyone who will own more than five percent of the venture, plus their criminal records and history of civil lawsuits.

The DBPR’s Pouncey also wanted a map of exactly where the proposed jai alai and poker room would be located. Lockwood’s April 20 letter gives the address as 3000 Biscayne Blvd. In October 2014, a subsidiary of Crescent Heights, a real estate company headed by Miami Beach developer Russell Galbut, bought the office building and the 1.5-acre parcel of land on which it stands on for $19.2 million. The seller was Legal Services of Greater Miami, a nonprofit that provides legal services for poor people living in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

The 3000 Biscayne Blvd. property wasn’t the only parcel Lockwood submitted to the state for consideration. His April 20 application claimed that 3000 Biscayne Blvd. was “comprised of [sic] multiple parcels” and listed more than a dozen properties, roughly from 29th to 31st streets between Biscayne Boulevard and NE 2nd Avenue. Most of the buildings and lots within that 6.8-acre area are owned by limited liability companies controlled by Crescent Heights’ partners.

Havenick explains that the other parcels Lockwood submitted were considered as either alternative sites or as a possible consolidated site for the future jai alai facility.

As for Crescent Heights’ role in the project, Havenick says that will be as developer and landlord. “We plan to be a tenant in whatever project is built there,” he tells the BT.

Crescent Heights did not respond to a request for comment.

The City of Miami zoned the 3000 Biscayne Blvd. property, as well as the other sites submitted to the state, T6-36, meaning a developer can build a high-rise up to 36 stories by right, and up to 60 stories with “public benefit bonuses.”

The zoning also allows for a variety of residential and commercial uses, including “entertainment establishments” like cinemas, billiard parlors, and video arcades. Also “recreational establishments” like “game courts” or “sports rooms.” To serve alcohol without food, an exception would be necessary from the Planning Zoning and Appeals Board or the Miami City Commission.

But the code says nothing about gambling.

Andres Althabe, president of the Biscayne Neighborhoods Association and an Edgewater resident, says he anticipates a lot of resistance from area residents against such a facility. “We don’t want this kind of activity,” Althabe says. “Traffic is going to be a nightmare, and it’s not the kind of business that we would welcome.”

Althabe isn’t against redevelopment along Biscayne Boulevard. He says he’d welcome additional retail and even a cinema. But he says his neighborhood doesn’t need gambling in any form.

“He’s apparently not looking for slot machines now, but after he gets this, he’s going to go for more,” Althabe reasons. “I’d rather stop him right at the beginning.”

On the other hand, there is the matter of increased tax revenues. Last year the state collected $509 million from pari-mutuels in taxes and fees. And that’s not counting taxes collected by cities and counties, or revenue from Seminole Tribe-run casinos like the Hard Rock in Hollywood.

But Paul Seago of No Casinos says that tax revenue comes at a cost to the local economy and public safety. According to a July 2016 Florida Council of Compulsive Gambling report, the average debt of gamblers calling into the group’s help line is $50,000. A third of gamblers surveyed by the council also admitted to committing “illegal acts” like fraud, larceny, or embezzlement to pay for their habit.

Grant Stern, a mortgage broker and civic activist now residing in Edgewater’s 22 Skyview apartments, says he wouldn’t mind a jai alai and poker facility if it included live music venues. Stern contends that the downtown area has lost many intimate music venues in recent years, such as Tobacco Road, the Crescendo, the Vagabond, the Stage, and Grand Central. “There’s a gaping hole in the market for quality music venues,” he says.

However, Stern just doesn’t see the demand for gambling in Edgewater. “I feel like they are taking massive risks,” he says. “I like to play poker, but I just don’t see a demand in this market.”


Feedback: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Art and Culture

ArtFeature_1For art dealer Anthony Spinello, message matters


Art Listings

Events Calendar


Pix_BizBuzz_7-19Sales, special events, and more from the people who make Biscayne Times possible


Picture Story

Pix_PictureStory_7-19A view of our past from the archives of HistoryMiami


Community Contacts