Miami-Dade Pursues Slots Plan for Miami International Airport

The County of Miami-Dade is refusing to back down from its plan to install slot machines at Miami International Airport, with the issue now apparently headed to court.

Last month, state regulators dismissed the county's bid to acquire a quarter-horse pari-mutuel permit that could have cleared the way for slot machines to be installed at the passenger terminals of the Miami International Airport (MIA).

The state cited numerous reasons, including Miami-Dade County's failure to qualify as a "person" under the existing state licensing laws. The Miami International Airport has turned to slot machines as a way to help its operational costs, which recently reached $600 million a year and are expected to increase to $1.1 billion by 2015.

County officials estimate that Las Vegas-style slot machines, which would be limited to the area beyond the security checkpoints, could produce $17 million or more annually. To keep the slot machine proposal alive, the county filed a legal appeal of the state's rejection on January 10th, 2010, which sets the stage for a future hearing before an administrative law judge.

In an email to the county commissioners, County Attorney Robert Cuevas Jr. sad that this move will protect the rights of the County. The appeal disputes the facts stated by the state's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering when it dismissed the airport's slots application. Aside from that, the county claims it was subjected to a different set of rules than the previous pari-mutuel applicants.

It is still not clear is whether the county commissioners have the strength for a legal battle with Florida officials-particularly on the slots issue. Although slot machines have long been a fixture in airport gaming towns such as Las Vegas, opponents of the Miami International Airport proposals say it would introduce a new level of gaming to Florida.

Commissioners are set to discuss the slots issue later this month and it is possible that Miami-Dade will abandon its appeal on the issue before it reaches a judge. County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, who has supported the slots proposal as additional revenue source for MIA, said that he would only support an appeal if it does not cost them additional money. The Deputy Director for Business Retention and Development at the MIA, Miguel Southwell, said that the cost of the appeal is a few hundred dollars.

But that cost could increase depending on the involvement of Miami-Dade's expert consultant, Tallahassee pari-mutuel lobbyist Marc Dunbar. Dunbar was hired to assist the initial slots application of Miami International Airport and is being paid a fee of $400 per hour.

Cuevas' email to commissioners states that Miami-Dade's "technical expert advisor" will be involved in the appeal. County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, whose district includes both the MIA and existing nearby gaming establishments such as the Magic City Casino responded to Cuevas' email with the question: "What will be the cost of the defense?"

Sosa said that she is wondering how the slots appeal could have been filed without the issue being given back to the commissioners for a decision. MIA officials said that there was not enough time for a new vote before the deadline for an appeal on the issue expired.