Gov. DeSantis Supported a Failed Bill to Move a Casino to Miami Beach


  • The bill did not authorize the creation of a new casino-resort
  • House leaders did not support the bill, causing it to be ruled dead
  • The owner of the Fontainebleau supported DeSantis’ presidential campaign

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis won’t succeed in bringing a long-awaited casino to Miami Beach this year, but he made his stance clear for the future.

DeSantis, who ended his presidential campaign two weeks ago, failed to convince important legislators to join his divisive pro-casino push. However, he still has three years left in office and appears as if he will help drive the casino bill process forward in the upcoming legislative sessions.

The Republican Governor has often gotten his way with legislative issues, notably involving his push for legal sports betting. Experts theorized that his failed bid for president could have reduced his influence over lawmakers.

Failing to clear the hurdles 

House Speaker Paul Renner said last week he spoke to DeSantis about potential casino legislation. Several anonymous lobbyists representing the gaming industry also claimed that DeSantis' office encouraged lawmakers to pass a casino bill this year, according to Politico.

The bill that failed to garner enough support outlined a plan to erect a casino in the luxurious Fontainebleau Hotel, known for featuring in Scarface and Goldfinger (part of the James Bond series). 

“We supported a proposal that would have not authorized any new gaming or construction of new casinos,” said Jeremy Redfern, a spokesperson for DeSantis. “Instead, it would have closed a large facility in Hollywood, Florida converting many acres of former dog track and gambling venues into needed housing and beautification for Broward County.”

The bill ultimately failed to get off the ground after Sen. Joe Gruters, chair of a Senate committee, dropped the bill because of a lack of support from House leaders such as Renner.

“I was supportive of bringing it up and giving it a hearing,” said Gruters. “But it was going to be a huge ordeal. Why put everybody through that if the bill is dead?”

If the bill had passed, Jeffrey Soffer, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Fontainebleau Development, would have been granted the right to transfer the Big Easy Casino’s gaming license to the Fontainebleau. 

According to the Governor’s office, the Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach is based in a “residential, blue-collar community,” and the license transfer would help create more than $120 million in annual funding that could be used for public improvement projects. 

Notably, a license transfer would allow the permit’s possessor to move slot machines up to 30 miles within the Broward and Miami-Dade counties as long as the new location was no less than 15 miles away from a Seminole casino.

Opposition and critics 

Many billionaires with a presence in the Miami area strongly opposed the proposed casino bill. Norman Braman said he was part of a group that was prepared to travel to Tallahassee to share their distaste for the bill, while Ken Griffin, founder of Citadel Advisors, also condemned the plan.

Regardless, DeSantis’ support for a casino project is a massive deal. Florida recently ended its drawn-out legal squabble over its sports betting compact with the Seminole Tribe, and the next natural stepping stone is to tackle the casino market.

DeSantis has not spoken on the failed bill since it was ruled out. His office released a statement that confirmed the bill did not authorize the creation of a new casino location and also did not single out the Fontainebleau.

The Governor does, however, have ties to Soffer, the man who would have benefitted from the bill’s passing. Soffer donated $1 million to a super PAC that backed DeSantis in his run for the presidency. DeSantis also frequently travels on Soffer’s private jet, which has drawn the ire of his critics. 

The Florida legislative session officially ends on March 8, at which time all unpassed legislation will be dead until the following session.

Florida still isn’t out of the woods with its sports betting compromise either. The state’s agreement with the Seminoles, which centers on the use of a “hub-and-spoke” model, is still undergoing attacks in court.