The Florida Gaming Commission has delayed a ruling on the pending sale of Miami’s Magic City Casino to an Alabama-based Native American tribe. The decision follows local media reports last week that the Havenick family, which owns the casino, is looking to sell the property to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians for an undisclosed sum.
The move to delay the sale had to do with the redaction of 103 pages of an application to transfer Magic City Casino’s pari-mutuel permit from the Havenicks’ West Flagler Associates to an entity controlled by the tribe, reports South Florida Business Journal.
Under the state law governing gaming, trade secret information is exempt from Florida’s public record sunshine law. However, Commission Chairman John Maclver said the public had a right to see more details on the pending deal, and asked staff to see if more information can be revealed.
"If there was an over-redaction of materials... it would be inappropriate to take action at this time," Maclver said, as reported by the cited source. For his part, John Lockwood, an attorney representing West Flagler Associates, said most of the pages were redacted to ensure confidential information wasn't leaked to the public.
"I would be happy to [submit] a less-redacted version," Lockwood told commission members. However, he pleaded with the commission to approve the application Thursday, stating that a delay even longer than two weeks "may be problematic" and could derail the pending sale.
Magic City Casino's interior
While Florida gambling regulators refused to sign off on the sale last week, the commission could still authorize the transfer of ownership before the end of the year, reports WLRN. Maclver told Lockwood the commission could meet again this month to consider the issue.
The Havenick family has operated the Miami casino, which includes a cardroom and slot machines, since 1931. The move is opposed by advocacy groups including No Casinos, which urged the commission to postpone the decision until the public has an opportunity to more closely scrutinize the deal.
John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, noted that 94% of the application’s contents were shielded from public view. The task to rule on the Magic City Casino deal is one of the panel’s first major tests, given the regulator was established just last year.
However, Lockwood argued he has worked closely since August with commission staff members on the application, which regulators would have approved or rejected behind closed doors before the creation of the panel. "This is a basic ownership transfer," he said, later adding: "We have done everything we are required to do."
Attorney Marc Dunbar, who represented the Seminole Tribe of Florida, also urged transparency and a thorough review of the state’s gaming regulations governing slot machines. State law says slot machine licenses can’t be transferred from one owner to another, yet Florida frequently approves such transfers, said Dunbar.
The Seminole Tribe, which operates six casinos in Florida, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, has conflicted with the Havenicks over the years about legislation governing gaming rights. In 2021, West Flagler associates filed a lawsuit challenging a 30-year-compact the Seminoles had with Governor Ron DeSantis.
The deal would have given the tribe control over sports betting statewide, plus other gaming rights, in exchange for $2.5 billion paid over five years. However, in November 2021, a federal judge halted the agreement when she ruled the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which limits gaming to tribal lands. The case is currently being appealed.
The Havenicks also own the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track in Bonita Springs. As for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, they own Wind Creek Hospitality, a gaming and hospitality business that now runs casinos in the United States and the Caribbean. Two of those casinos, Creek Entertainment Gretna and Pensacola Greyhound Park, are in the Florida panhandle.