Judge Upholds Miami Mayor’s Edgewater Casino Veto

Posted on: January 21, 2021, 11:50h. 

Last updated on: January 21, 2021, 01:53h.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez was within his rights when he vetoed the approval of a casino with a jai alai fronton for the city’s Edgewater neighborhood. That’s according to Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, whose verdict delivered a huge setback to the plan on Tuesday, The Daily Business Review reports.

Miami Herald
The owners of Miami’s Magic City Casino were dealt a blow in their bid to build a casino in Edgewater. (Image: Miami Herald)

Hanzman said Suarez’s decision to overrule the City Council’s approval of a land-use settlement for the casino was legitimate. The city charter gives the mayor broad powers to veto any commission vote on land use, he added.

This expansive, all-inclusive authority was not handed out willy-nilly and without forethought,” Hanzman said.

“The decision to give the mayor this broad veto power was carefully considered and enacted into law because … ‘land-use decisions’ can dramatically impact the health and well-being of a community,” Hanzman continued.

Edgewater Casino Meets Local Resistance

West Flagler Associates has been pushing to establish the gaming facility on Biscayne Boulevard in the up-and-coming Edgewater neighborhood for several years but has met local resistance. The company is controlled by the Havenick family, which already operates two other gaming venues: the Magic City Casino in Miami and Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing & Poker in Bonita Springs.

The Edgewater casino would not be a full-fledged Las Vegas-style casino, but a pari-mutuel venue with a card room. Miami-Dade County is one of two in Florida that authorizes pari-mutuel venues to offer slot machines. But the Seminole tribe holds exclusivity on most casino-style games in the state.

Funding the fight against the venue is local auto mogul Norman Braman and Jorge Pérez, a real-estate tycoon. They sued the City and West Flager to ensure Suarez’s veto was upheld after it was contested by City Attorney Victoria Méndez.

Hanzman emphasized that his ruling was no reflection on the merits of the settlement. It was only concerned with whether the veto was legal.

“The city may (or may not) end up in a far worse position as a result of the mayor’s decision. But that also is of no concern to the court,” Hanzman wrote.

Two Ways Forward

All is not lost for the proposed Edgewater casino. West Flagler’s lawyer, Joseph DeMaria, told the Daily Business Review that there were two ways to proceed. First, the company will try its luck by going through the commission process again with a slightly modified proposal — any mayoral veto can be overridden by four-fifths of the city commission. Second, it could renew a federal lawsuit against the City.

West Flagler sued the City in a federal case in 2019, which ultimately led to the settlement approval by City commissioners.

We have already resubmitted a settlement proposal to the city attorney and asked that they schedule it for the next commission meeting,” DeMaria told The Miami Herald.

“The new proposal provides for a jai alai fronton and card room, but no slot machines, and waives all attorney’s fees, which could run up into the millions. If the city commission doesn’t approve it, or if the commission not override the mayor’s veto, we’re going to court,” DeMaria continued.