By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
LEGISLATION to bring three Las Vegas-style casino mega resorts to South Florida - and in direct competition with Bahamian hotels - has been passed by a US Senate committee.
Florida lawmakers began their examination of the Bills yesterday after a 7-3 vote in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Monday.
Last year, Kerzner International Bahamas' managing director George Markantonis expressed concern about the proposal.
He said the establishment of high-end resorts in the immediate area and on US soil would be a problem not just for Atlantis and Baha Mar, but the entire tourism industry of the Bahamas.
Since then, the Bills have been substantially reworked according to The Sun Sentinel newspaper, and now require each county to put the option of a destination casino before voters.
Facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward are allowed slot-machine "racinos," but can't have Blackjack and craps tables. If approved, the Bills would allow smaller operations to open full-scale casinos as well.
According to reports, Malaysian-based Genting Group has already purchased waterfront property for a proposed $3.8 billion casino resort in Miami, designs for which have already been released.
In New York, governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced plans to build the world's largest convention centre and hotel complex at New York City's Aqueduct racetrack.
The $4 billion venture would also be funded by the Genting Group, who will operate the video slot machine centre at the racetrack.
The Florida Bills face considerable opposition, including from tourism giant Disney, as well as the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
According to Associated Press, a new university poll indicated that Florida voters approve of bringing Las Vegas-style casinos to the state by a small margin and nearly three-fourths say gambling is not morally wrong.
The random telephone survey by Quinnipiac University polled 1,412 register voters last week.
Yesterday, Robert Sands, senior vice president at Baha Mar, said the Bill still has a long way to go.
He said: "The Senate Regulated Industries Committee took up the Destination Resorts Bill yesterday afternoon.
"The committee passed the bill with a 7 to 3 vote. The bill still has to pass through the Budget Committee and the Rules."