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Exclusive: Will The Public Vote On Casino Gambling?

MIAMI (CBS4) - The Miami-Dade County Commission will consider a proposal Wednesday morning that would place the casino gambling issue on the January ballot.

Late Tuesday afternoon, County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez added an item to Wednesday's agenda that calls for a non-binding straw ballot question on "the expansion of gambling in Miami-Dade County."

The question reads simply: "Do you support the presence of destination resort casinos in Miami-Dade County?"

Martinez told CBS4's Jim DeFede that he simply wants to see what voters are thinking on the issue. He said while there has been some discussion about what these mega casinos will look like, what kind of taxes the casinos should pay, and where they might be built - the more fundamental question of whether we even want to have these types of casinos in Miami hasn't been asked.

The issue of expanding casino gambling was brought to the forefront several months ago when the Malaysian casino giant, Genting, bought The Miami Herald building and all of the land around it, including the Omni, and announced plans to build a destination resort that would have 5,100 hotel rooms, 55 restaurants and a casino space larger than anything currently available in Las Vegas.

Other companies followed suit announcing their desire to build in Miami and Miami Beach. Two South Florida legislators, State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Broward) and State Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) introduced a measure in Tallahassee last month which would allow up to three destination resort casinos in Dade and Broward.

The proposal has sharply divided political powers across the state. Former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, former Democratic state senator Dan Gelber, Disney Resorts, as well as the various Indian tribes of Florida and the Catholic Church have all come out against the expansion of casino gambling.

But groups such as Genting are spending millions on a lobbying team that includes former Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz Balart and former Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin. They are promising 100,000 new jobs and $1.7 billion a year in new taxes for the state.

But while legislators and lobbyists have been arguing the merits of expanding casino gambling in South Florida, no one has bothered to ask the public if they are in favor of such a move.

In addition to this question, the January 31 ballot would also include the candidates for the Republican presidential primary and a series of charter reform questions to reshape county government.

But if this were on the ballot - even though it was just a straw poll, both pro and anti casino forces could end up spending a small fortune trying to win it.


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