Citadel Founder Ken Griffin Says Casinos are a Losing Idea for Florida

Posted on: January 31, 2024, 02:54h. 

Last updated on: February 3, 2024, 01:09h.

Ken Griffin, Citadel’s founder and co-chief investment officer, believes Florida is already on the right track, and more casinos could derail the state’s impressive economic trajectory.

Ken Griffin
Citadel founder Ken Griffin. He opposes casino expansion in Florida. (Image: Getty Images)

In a new op-ed for the Miami Herald, Griffin, whose hedge fund is one of the world’s largest, called new casino gaming expansion legislation before the Florida legislature a “threat to our shared prosperity.”

There are approximately 20 gaming venues in the state, with Hard Rock-branded properties operated by the Seminole Tribe accounting for a plurality. Caesars Entertainment runs Harrah’s Pompano, and other casinos are strewn across South Florida.

As Griffin noted, in 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative stating casino gaming expansion in the state must be confirmed by voters, not politicians. Senate Bill 1054 and House Bill 1127 currently before those chambers amount to legislative gimmickry aimed at “sidestepping voters,” opined the billionaire.

Griffin’s Unique Perspective

Though not mentioned in his piece for the Herald, Griffin has an interesting perspective on the issue of some jurisdictions turning to casinos to generate jobs and bolster government coffers.

For decades, Citadel was based in Chicago. But in 2022, Griffin decided to move the hedge fund to Miami after one of his employees was held up at gunpoint on their way to get coffee in the Windy City. Illinois, including Chicago, has increasingly turned to casinos to shore up the state’s ailing finances and those of some cities. It’s a gambit Griffin doesn’t support.

Too often, local casinos earn a majority of their profits from residents with gambling problems. This leads to broken lives, shattered families and higher crime rates in the community,” he wrote in the Herald. “One can see the damage across numerous metrics. For example, nearby home values are reduced by the opening of casinos, according to the National Association of Realtors.”

Griffin is a longtime donor to Republican candidates, putting him at odds with policymakers in deep blue Illinois. Crime and quality of life appeared to be the motivations for moving Citadel to Florida. In the process, Illinois lost one of its biggest individual payers of income tax, along with a slew of highly compensated Citadel staffers who moved to Miami.

Florida Alluring for Casinos

As the third-largest — and one of the fastest-growing states — Florida is undoubtedly compelling to casino operators.  That’s particularly in those areas in which the companies could potentially establish new gaming venues without butting heads with the Seminoles.

Some gaming companies may be shrewd enough to consider other parts of Florida. But ongoing attempts are to bring a casino resort to the Miami area. For example, Fontainebleau Miami Beach owner Jeffrey Soffer has donated heavily to Florida Republicans, though it’s widely known the residents of Miami Beach don’t want a casino.

That’s where Griffin could flex his financial muscle. He’s worth an estimated $37.2 billion. It’s possible — though he didn’t mention anything to this effect — that he could pledge to support a 2028 White House bid by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). That’s if the governor opposes casino expansion in the state. Those are to-be-determined factors, but it’s clear Griffin doesn’t want new gaming venues in South Florida.

“Allowing casinos to harm thriving communities and undermine Florida families is like willingly dumping toxic waste into the Everglades,” he concluded in the Herald. “Casinos are a bad bet for South Florida. We need to defeat this reckless legislation, defend our personal rights as voters, and protect Florida’s future.”