Florida Gambling Expansion Bill on Pause After Miami Billionaires Revolt

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Florida lawmakers have punted a pair of bills that would have expanded gambling in the state, after Miami billionaires voiced opposition to the proposed legislation. 

The pair of bills, called Senate Bill 1054 and House Bill 1127, would have granted gambling permit holders to transfer their licenses to a property within a 30-mile radius, even if local officials vote down the move. The legislation would have benefited former President Donald Trump and billionaire Jeffrey Soffer, both of whom have sought to open gambling facilities at their resorts in Miami-Dade County.

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The Florida Senate’s Regulated Industries Committee was scheduled to discuss the legislation on Monday, but canceled the meeting just three hours after it was publicly announced, according to the Miami Herald

The removal came after the Miami Beach Commission voted to use a plane owned by auto dealership billionaire Norman Braman to fly over 100 officials and residents to Tallahassee to protest the legislation, the Herald reported. Armando Codina, a prominent Miami developer, also greenlighted funds for the trip.

The fate of the bills remains unclear. Spokespeople for Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, as well as state Sen. Jonathan Martin and House Rep. Michelle Salzman, both of whom sponsored the bills, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The City of Miami Beach has long opposed gambling within its parameters. In 2017, the town’s commission voted to ban gambling. 

On Wednesday, Ken Griffin, the billionaire owner of hedge fund Citadel, joined the dissenting chorus by publishing a scathing op-ep in the Miami Herald.

“Allowing casinos to harm thriving communities and undermine Florida families is like willingly dumping toxic waste into the Everglades,” Griffin wrote. “Casinos are a bad bet for Florida.”

The financier — who relocated his businesses to Miami in 2022 and remains a major Republican donor — claimed casinos feed gambling addiction, lead to higher crime rates in the community and devalue nearby homes. 

The abolition of the committee meeting constitutes yet another blow to Jeffrey Soffer’s quest to open a gambling facility inside the Fontainebleau, the Miami Beach resort he owns.

Since buying a casino and greyhound track in Hollywood six years ago, the hotelier has lobbied state lawmakers to rewrite gambling laws to allow him to transfer his gambling permit to the oceanfront resort in Miami Beach. 

In 2021, he dined with top state leaders, including Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls and state Senate President Wilton Simpson, aboard his 311-foot, $272 million yacht, according to the Miami Herald. Football legend Tom Brady, a close friend and neighbor, stopped by to greet the politicians the night the quarterback won the Super Bowl.

In recent months, Soffer, who’s worth an estimated $1.7 billion, stepped up donations to Florida’s Republican Party and to political action committees that support state legislators, including nine Miami-Dade County Republicans. In all, the contributions came to $300,000.

Soffer was also under contract to buy the Diplomat hotel in Hollywood for over $800 million. But the deal fell apart, in part because Soffer wanted to add a casino to the 1,000-room property, Commercial Observer previously reported. The seller thought the plan was unrealistic, given Florida’s restrictive gambling laws. 

In 2018, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment requiring voter approval to expand gambling in the state.

A spokesperson for Soffer declined to comment.

Julia Echikson can be reached at jechikson@commercialobserver.com