The owners of one of the longest-running gambling operations in Florida are selling Magic City Casino in Miami to an Alabama-based Native American tribe for an undisclosed price and on Thursday will ask the state to transfer its lucrative gambling permit.
The transfer of the gambling permit from Miami’s Havenick family to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians would allow the tribe to own and operate Magic City Casino and retain control of the casino’s greyhound permit, which was first issued by the state in 1931 when racing was first legalized in Florida. Although greyhound racing is now banned in the state, the permit remains in force and, since 2004, has been the ticket that has allowed Magic City and other South Florida casinos to legally operate slot machines.
The decision whether to approve the transfer will be the highest profile issue yet to go before the newly constituted Florida Gaming Control Commission, which is scheduled to meet Thursday in Tallahassee. How the new commission handles the proposed deal will test how much scrutiny and deliberation the five-member panel will give high-dollar transactions.
According to an application submitted to the commission last month, West Flagler Associates, controlled by the Havenick family, entered into an asset purchase agreement with Wind Creek Miami, LLC, a subsidiary of the Poarch tribe, to acquire 100% ownership interest and equity interest in the permit.
According to a memo to the commission, the agency’s staff recommends approval of the transfer. However, more than 100 pages in the application posted on the commission’s website have been completely redacted, leaving the public in the dark about key details of the agreement. For example, the document indicates the deal involves financing, but none of the details or terms are disclosed, and it’s unclear if there are any other partners in the financing.
“Because it is acquiring the permit, Wind Creek will also acquire a parimutuel operating license, cardroom license, and the slot machine license for the 2022-2023 fiscal year,’’ the application states.
John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, an anti-casino advocacy group, is urging the commission to give the public more time before it votes on what he believes is likely a multimillion-dollar agreement that has left many questions unanswered.
“The Gaming Control Commission was created with the promise of greater transparency and public view into the world of gambling policy making, regulation and enforcement,’’ Sowinski said. “In that spirit, this agenda item should be fully disclosed and should be postponed until the public has time to see what’s going on and the gaming commission can make a decision with the benefit of public input.”
The Havenick family’s other gambling operations, which include a permit to operate summer jai alai and poker in Miami’s Edgewater neighborhood and the Bonita Springs Poker Room near Fort Myers, will remain in the family’s control.
Wind Creek Miami, LLC is a subsidiary of the tribe’s principal gaming and hospitality entity, called the PCI Gaming Authority. That entity holds two gambling permits in North Florida, a greyhound permit and a cardroom in Pensacola, and a barrel racing track and poker room in Gretna. For more than a decade, the Poarch tribe has expanded its gambling footprint across the U.S. and now has 10 gaming operations. In 2019, for example, Wind Creek Hospitality purchased a resort casino from Las Vegas Sands for $1.3 billion.
In addition to those properties, the company runs gambling operations in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka in Alabama, the Renaissance Aruba and Renaissance Curacao, and the Mobile Greyhound Track in Alabama.
Neither the Poarch tribe nor the Havenicks would respond to requests for comment.
According to the commission, the application was submitted Oct. 6, and state law requires that once the application is complete it is followed by a 90-day review period.
It is also unknown whether the proposed deal will influence whether West Flagler Associates continues to pursue the lawsuit that invalidated the gambling agreement between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The company was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the court’s rejection of the deal, known as a gaming compact, that would have given the Seminole Tribe a monopoly on sports betting in Florida. A federal district court judge in the District of Columbia ruled last December that the compact violates federal Indian gaming law and thereby halted all sports betting and gaming expansion in Florida indefinitely. The ruling is now under appeal.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @MaryEllenKlas