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THE GAMALYZE CHALLENGE

Fontainebleau Miami Owner Bets on PACs to Bring Casino to Florida

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Jeffrey Soffer, the owner of Fontainebleau Miami Beach, has strategically employed substantial political contributions in order to leave a lasting impression on legislators. His goal is to pave the way toward his lifelong aspiration of establishing a casino within his hotel.

Pouring Money into Political Pockets

Diving into political finance records, Soffer's contributions exceeded $300,000 last year, directed toward political action committees (PACs) that advocate for the interests of state lawmakers. Nine Republicans from Miami-Dade County are counted among them.

In Tallahassee last week, as the new legislative session got underway, it saw the introduction of comparable bills in both the Florida House and Senate. These bills propose that gambling license holders could relocate their licenses to alternative sites within a thirty-mile radius, thereby eliminating all governmental constraints on gambling.

Soffer's Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach, along with other license-holding greyhound racers and casino operators, would be relieved from participating in pari-mutuel sports betting, according to the proposed bills. Notably, Soffer contributed $15,000 towards Ethical Conservatism, a PAC helmed by Representative Alex Rizo, last September. Rizo is sponsoring the House bill.

Soffer, in association with the Fontainebleau and the Big Easy Casino, contributed $50,000 to the Florida Republican Party in September. Additionally, he donated $25,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee in June, as well as $10,000 to the president's PAC or affiliated organizations, and extended another $10,000 to eight senators from Miami-Dade, including both representatives and senators.

City records show that Soffer's company, which acquired the Mardi Gras Casino and Race Track under the name Big Easy, has contributed over $2.5 million in political contributions since 2018. Notably, they have allocated $250,000 for PACs endorsing Governor Ron DeSantis in both 2021 and 2022.

Gambling Opposition Remains Strong

Critics argue that the proposed legislation is being met with resistance due to concerns that it may compromise the authority of Florida citizens to prohibit gambling within their own state. Detractors of gambling in Miami Beach, where a citywide ban on gambling venues has been in effect since 2017, assert that the raised funds seem suspiciously intended to pave the way for a casino to be established at Fontainebleau.

After years of effort, John Sowinski, the head of Orlando No Casinos, an organization vehemently opposed to gambling, acknowledged the progress made. Surprisingly, it seems Miami Beach holds a prominent position in the realm of gambling jurisdictions within Florida, often emerging as an attractive destination for casinos. In light of this, Sowinski expressed his belief that the proposed bill is undoubtedly contradictory, though the charges are still awaiting a hearing.

The law has been deemed a "real threat" to Miami Beach by Dan Gelber, who served as the city's mayor for six years until November. He has consistently shown resistance to gambling.

In spite of Soffer's unsuccessful endeavors to pass a bill permitting gambling at Fontainebleau, there has been a noteworthy shift in the political landscape and the manner in which gambling is conducted within the state. A variety of factors have influenced Soffer's prospects, notably including DeSantis' recent agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Under this agreement, the tribe is exclusively authorized to offer online sports betting throughout the state while pledging not to impede the establishment of new casinos that are situated more than 15 miles away from the tribe's Hollywood gambling hub.

The two new legislative efforts to rewrite Florida's gambling laws have reportedly not yet been discussed since the start of the new session.

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