he move, which faces a daunting regulatory battle in Tallahassee and fierce opposition from local gaming interests, is part of a mad-dash campaign to boost revenues at MIA. Massive debt taken out to finance the airport expansion threatens to swamp MIA in coming years. Current annual revenue of about us$ 630 million will have to climb to us$ 1.1 billion by 2015 to cover the payments, said MIA Deputy Director Miguel Southwell.
While gambling at the airport remains a notion in its infancy, Barbara Hecht Havenick, president of Flagler Dog Track and Magic City Casino, rose before the commission on Tuesday to try to smother it. “We feel that we've been negatively impacted by just the aura of putting slot machines at MIA,'' she said, adding that banks are reluctant to lend money to complete renovations to her casino due to the fear of competition from the county.
Several commissioners expressed doubt that slot machines secluded behind stringent airport security checkpoints could pose a credible threat to local racetracks. Noting that you'd have to buy a plane ticket to get to them, Commissioner Jose “Pepe'' Diaz said, “If you're willing to buy a plane ticket to play slots, we all know you're flying to Vegas.''
The odds in Tallahassee seem stacked against the county. Tuesday's vote approved an application for a quarter-horse racing permit. Nobody seriously intends to run ponies at the airport, but with the horse permit comes the real prize - the ability to apply for a slots permit.
State officials have expressed their desire to close the quarter-horse “loophole,” Southwell said Tuesday. Nevertheless, commissioners approved the application 9-3, with Katy Sorenson, Rebecca Sosa and Joe Martinez voting against the measure. Natacha Seijas was absent for the vote.