A major Las Vegas casino company announced Tuesday that it will partner with the Florida Panthers' parent company in an attempt to bring casino gambling to Sunrise.
Boyd Gaming, which owns 17 casinos, said it will work with Sunrise Sports Entertainment, the operator of the BankAtlantic Center and owner of the Panthers.
With Sawgrass Mills Mall across the street and the BankAtlantic Center itself drawing crowds to concerts and hockey games, the casino would have little problem drawing people to stop and take a spin at the slots, Boyd chief executive officer Keith Smith said.
“While additional Florida development is contingent on the state passing legislation, this agreement gives us an additional exciting option for Florida if and when it does,” he said.
Sunrise Sports CEO Michael Yormark added, “When you think about premier locations in South Florida, we’re sitting on one.”
Yormark said the National Hockey League has OK’d the opening of a casino next to a professional team, but he acknowledged it will be awhile before a shovel goes into the ground.
“We’re going to work with the city, the county and, obviously, the state Legislature,” he said. “It’s the first step in a long process. But we’re confident we have the right plan and the right strategy.”
Yormark noted the center also isn’t as difficult to reach as one may think, because of the Sawgrass Expressway and Interstate 595. “From here to the airport, it’s one stoplight,” he said.
Details such as the size of the hotel and casino amenities would depend on what the Legislature would approve, but the 90-acre BankAtlantic Center property has plenty of room. It also would be the only casino in west Broward County, which has increased in population in recent years.
Currently, neither Boyd nor the Panthers have the legal right to offer gambling on or around the BankAtlantic Center. But legislators last year discussed approving large destination casinos in Florida, and Boyd could bid for one of three operating licenses.
Boyd also could attempt to transfer the pari-mutuel permit that it currently holds for Dania Jai-Alai. Either move will require legislative approval.
Smith said depending on the state’s actions, Boyd could either sell or expand Dania Jai-Alai.
“If there are changes in the law, changes in tax rate, there may be more opportunities there,” he said.
State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, who proposed the destination bill, agreed that Boyd and Sunrise Sports have many steps ahead of them.
“The problem is, I just don't see the Legislature having the political will to move this issue forward,” she said. “But this will force the debate to continue.”
In the past year, experts in gambling law have successfully argued for all kinds of expansion, including another jai-alai permit inMiami-Dade County, virtual roulette and craps, and even rodeo-style barrel racing, which allowed one northwest Florida venue to open a poker room.
“Based on what's happened, with all the clever lawyering, I'd venture to say someone thinks they have a shot at moving the permit,” Bogdanoff said. “But I don't know that for sure.”
Daniel Adkins, president of Mardi Gras Casino in Hallandale Beach, said he’d have no problem with Dania moving its permit to Sunrise. The jai-alai fronton is the lone Broward pari-mutuel not to install slots. Boyd has declined to upgrade the property, and its poker-room revenues are among the lowest in the state.
“I think these permits should be portable, and it’s good even from the state’s perspective,” Adkins said. “If you can move it to a place to increase the revenue, it’s good for the county, the state and the operator. I don’t see a downside.”
Major casino companies such as Genting and Las Vegas Sands are still pushing for the state to allow destination casinos. Currently, the state has a hodgepodge of Seminole Tribe establishments (which offer table games, slots and poker), South Florida racinos (slots and poker only) and horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons in the rest of the state (poker only).
The Boyd-Sunrise partnership underscores how valuable gaming operators believe the Florida market to be.
Genting, which has spent about $500 million on property in Miami, including the Miami Herald building, has spent millions in lobbying the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to OK destination casinos in Florida. If that doesn’t work, it has also financed a new committee that could put an amendment on the 2014 ballot that would ask voters to approve destination casinos in the state.
Lawmakers will be under pressure from many corners to look at gambling issues during the 2013 session. The Seminole Tribe of Florida is pushing the Legislature to renegotiate its compact with the state, which will allow them to continue to offer blackjack and other card games. Several conservative groups are pushing for lawmakers to pass a statewide ban on Internet cafes.
Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who is set to become Senate President following the November election, said he wouldn’t put gambling in the top 100 issues he expects to take up lawmakers’ time this session. But he said he assumed bills would be filed on destination-casino resorts.
Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who will become House Speaker in 2013, said there “needs to be clarity and direction as to where Florida is going with gaming.”
“The reality is that there is gaming in Florida today in many forms,” he said. “Our job is to sift through our options and determine what is best for Florida.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times