Las Vegas Sands Urges Lawmakers to Let Destination Casinos 'Go Big' in Florida
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A Las Vegas Sands Corp. representative told Florida lawmakers they should expand gaming in the state by providing incentives for destination-resort developers to “go big.”
Nick Iarossi, a lobbyist for the world’s largest destination-resort company, told the House Select Committee on Gaming Tuesday that they should create a tax rate that allows destination casinos to do it right – on a large scale.
“A lower tax obviously leads to increased capital investment and more job opportunities and more competition among bidders in deciding what to build, what type of iconic structure and amenities to build,” he said.
“What we would encourage this committee to look at, and the Legislature as a whole, is providing a tax rate that provides incentive to go big, to build an iconic structure that not just caters to locals or to regionals around Florida but will convince people to travel to Florida from out of state and out of country in order to see and visit and spend their money in the economy here.”
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s Sands operates “integrated resorts” that use a MICE model – meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions – that draws in conventions and trade shows that are vital to the success of the properties. Noncasino offerings make up two-thirds of Sands’ revenue in Las Vegas, Iarossi noted. Additionally, the square footage of the casino floors in the Sands’ Las Vegas properties is less than 1 percent of the total property, he told the committee.
Lawmakers were specifically interested in what the Sands would envision for Florida, but Iarossi said it would depend on the location, because they would “build to suit the area.” The Sands has scouted several cities, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Tampa.
To give the members who are studying gaming an idea, he said the Sands’ Miami model included a range of 1,000 to 1,200 rooms. The casino representative said downtown Miami is seen as an ideal location because it has an international draw, it’s close to a major airport and it already has existing “critical mass” hotel infrastructure to support overflow during conventions and trade shows.
Rep. Matt Gaetz worried that the opposite effect could take place if a large-scale resort entered the Miami market. “One could easily make the argument if you inject 1,000 rooms in market … that it would have an effect on the other [existing] 9,000 rooms,” he said. “We’d have to know the economic model.”
Iarossi told the Fort Walton Beach Republican the company’s experience in other markets is that their resorts result in increased traffic for existing hotels because there are visitors who choose not to pay the resort’s premium price. But, he could not provide estimated room rates, because the Sands had not modeled room prices yet. In 2012, convention and trade show attendees occupied 746,000 room nights at the company's Las Vegas resorts -- The Venetian and The Palazzo.
Another necessity to spur development of high-end gambling in Florida, according to the Sands, is a strong regulatory environment. The group only operates in jurisdictions with a strict regulatory structure that “establish a firm set of regulations that allows us all to play by the same set of rules.” They also recommended the creation of a gaming commission.
Iarossi asserted that lawmakers need to look past some of the rhetoric from naysayers and look at real-life examples, pointing out that South Florida has the same amount of slot machines as the Las Vegas strip. “When slot machines were authorized in South Florida … the sky didn’t fall there.”
Anne Smith writes special to Sunshine State News.