he move came at the urging of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, which is scrambling for new revenue sources to plug giant anticipated deficits. The surprise move triggered instant reaction, much of it critical.
Airport officials said quick action is required because the laws governing gambling in Florida are set to change with final approval of the gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. ''The window of opportunity may close shortly,'' said Miguel Southwell, deputy aviation director. “It doesn't mean we would do it, but we would like to have the option.''
The county's decision to pursue slot machines at MIA is sure to become a hot-button issue, reigniting the debate about where gaming should be made available in Miami-Dade -- and who should house it.
''There is tremendous sensitivity to the concerns of the law of unintended consequences when the county becomes competitors with the private sector,'' said lobbyist Ron Book, who represents Flagler Dog Track and Entertainment Center in Miami.
The county's proposal calls for slot machines beyond security checkpoints at MIA, which supporters hope would lure travelers to gamble - and pad airport coffers - while waiting for flights. Under the permit, the county would also have to strike an agreement to run quarterhorse races off site. The proposal is one of several County Manager George Burgess spelled out in a memo detailing possible ways to curb the financial straits MIA finds itself in.
MIA's annual operating cost, including debt service, has reached us$ 600 million, Burgess said - and will skyrocket to us$ 1.1 billion by 2015 because of debt associated with airport construction and rising operating costs. ''This increase will demand that the Miami-Dade Aviation Department raise a staggering us$ 500 million more each year,'' he wrote to county commissioners.
Calling it ''crucial'' that MIA raise money from sources other than airlines, Burgess pitched a mix of public-private partnerships and business ventures. The slot machine idea, he wrote, could raise us$ 17 million a year. Commissioners voted 8-3 in support of the measure, but several said the issue is subject to another vote and remain undecided if they will ultimately support slots.