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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida legislators didn’t deliver a casino to former President Donald Trump during their special session on gambling, but they cleared at least one hurdle from his path if he has those ambitions.
In a deal approved this week, the Seminole Tribe of Florida agreed not to object to new gambling operations that are farther than 15 miles away from its Hollywood casinos.
Trump Doral falls just outside that 15-mile zone, as does the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, which has also been mentioned as a possible casino site.
“As we sit here on Thursday, it is now easier to get gambling into Trump Doral or the Fontainebleau than it was two days ago,” state Rep. Mike Grieco said. “One of the hurdles was potential objections from the Seminoles.”
Grieco, a Democrat, doesn’t think it’s a coincidence Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe’s agreement landed on a 15-mile buffer for the Seminole Tribe’s casinos instead of a larger one.
“Anyone with half a brain can see the writing on the wall,” he said.
At the Seminole Tribe’s other casinos, such as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa, the buffer zone is larger — 100 miles.
State lawmakers approved the gambling deal this week during a special session. Much of the debate focused on legal sports betting in Florida, but another gambling issue called portability also prompted discussion.
The idea is a gambling permit could be moved from an existing pari-mutuel, which includes horse-racing tracks with slots and card games, to a more desirable location.
The developer, Jeffrey Soffer, has been pushing to move a permit from the Big Easy Casino that he owns in Hallandale Beach to his Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach.
Soffer’s media representative did not respond to a request for comment.
The Trump Organization also didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Eric Trump, the former president’s son, floated the idea in The Washington Post of converting the Doral golf resort into a gambling destination.
“Many people consider Trump Doral to be unmatched from a gaming perspective — at 700 acres, properties just don’t exist of that size and quality in South Florida, let alone in the heart of Miami,” Eric Trump wrote in an email to The Washington Post.
The Doral property has been losing money, and gambling is seen as a possible boon for the destination.
Just ahead of the special session on gambling, the former president blasted out an unexpected endorsement of Senate President Wilton Simpson, one of the key players in gambling talks.
Trump endorsed Simpson for agriculture commissioner, even though Simpson hasn’t formally declared his candidacy for the job.
The former president carries immense sway with Florida’s Republican governor and legislative leaders. Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis helped to propel the upstart politician to the Governor’s Mansion in 2018. Trump won Florida in 2020, despite losing nationally, showing he still has significant support in what is now his home state.
Miami-Dade lawmakers pressed for answers on whether the gambling deal is paving the way for casinos at Trump Doral and the Fontainebleau.
GOP Sen. Travis Hutson said the Legislature would need to approve the movement of gambling permits, and Miami-Dade County voters would get a say in a local referendum.
Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Democrat, said she wants to ensure Miami-Dade voters get the ultimate say on whether gambling permits are moved.
“Absolutely 100% they should have a say, and it should go to the voters,” she said.
Miami-Dade’s leaders are adamantly opposed to new casinos, Grieco said. He thinks moving a gambling permit should trigger a statewide referendum under the state constitution.
“There is bipartisan opposition in the Miami-Dade delegation to gambling expansion in South Florida and portability,” Grieco said. “If you look at metropolitan areas that have wedged gambling into their economies, it never ends well.”
The Genting Group in 2011 proposed a $3.8 billion Las Vegas-style waterfront resort and casino at the site of the former Miami Herald building overlooking Biscayne Bay. The project stalled amid a failed push to change gambling laws.
Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming, said the Seminole Tribe agreed to the 15-mile buffer in Broward County during the negotiations, but that doesn’t mean the Seminoles support moving permits.
“Why did we do that? It’s like any deal. You have to give and take on certain things,” Allen said in an interview with The South Florida Sun Sentinel’s editorial board before the special session.
The gambling deal still needs federal approval, and the Seminole Tribe’s control of legalized sports betting is expected to be challenged in court.
Trump is no stranger to the casino industry. His gambling empire in Atlantic City crumbled amid multiple bankruptcies, and the Trump era in that locale ended in February with the implosion of the former Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.
The prospect of a Trump casino in Florida could get hashed out in future legislative sessions.
“The Florida Legislature would have to act on a permit moving. ... We would have to come up and actually pass law to make it move,” Hutson said.