ilton Simpson, the Florida Senate President, denied the owner of Fontainebleau Resort, Jeffrey Soffer, his request to move his casino license to his Miami Beach hotel.
“We will not contemplate moving a casino license out to the Fontainebleau,” Simpson told CBS Miami.
For months Soffer had previously spent more than a million dollars in campaign contributions and hosting private parties and fundraisers for Republican lawmakers on his $272 million mega-yacht. Soffer’s yacht-based lobbying efforts began last Fall but were eventually uncovered by The Miami Herald in March.
The Legislature is scheduled to meet on May 17 for a special session to approve a new gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and critics fear there might be an effort to try to sneak through an amendment that would allow Soffer to open his Miami Beach casino.
The Senate President also ruled out transferring a license to Donald Trump’s country club in Doral.
Simpson commented: “I do not think that that’s being contemplated in this special session. I actually know it’s not. We put out the call yesterday and it would prohibit that type of activity.”
Soffer currently has a license for the Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach but wants to transfer it to Miami Beach. State law currently prevents “portability,” the right to move a casino license from one location to another.
Miami Beach officials strongly oppose the move. Doral officials have also expressed deep reservations.
Simpson added: “So it’s not breaking news that Jeff Soffer would like to move his license to the Fontainebleau, everybody knows that. And so that is something that we consider as a legislature. It’s something just like any other considerations we do. Jeff Soffer has been somebody that when I have spoken with him, and I’ve spoken to him several times about this issue, has been very gracious.”
Interests controlled by Soffer, donated more than $1 million to Republicans in 2020, including nearly $400,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, and $350,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Simpson used to help elect Senate candidates across the state.
Simpson said Soffer was recently informed his casino plans will not be allowed to move forward, at least for this year.
“Jeff Soffer has folks that we, you know, that engage us on the issue,” he said, referring to Soffer’s lobbyists. “We’ve been very clear that I do not believe that it’s going to happen this year. That’s correct.”
When asked if he could understand why the public would find the entire process unethical after learning that one wealthy man attempted to buy the support of legislators aboard his mega yacht, Simpson responded: “There is no shortage of money in the political process,” he said, noting it’s true for both parties. “And so I think there’s always going to be money in politics. I think there are always going to be business people that are going to come to the Legislature with the needs that they have. I think that what you should judge us on is based on what the finished product is.”
And this year, he noted, the final product is that Soffer will not get his Miami Beach casino.
Going forward, Simpson said he is not automatically opposed to portability, however, he added that if local officials oppose a casino, he will not support moving a casino license to that city.
“I’m not totally against portability,” he said. “I’m against portability that would run over local communities to make it happen.”
Miami Beach has repeatedly passed ordinances and resolutions opposing casino gambling.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, said: “We know two things about casino gambling. Number one, it’s horrible for a community, there’s no city in America that has casinos that we want to be. And number two, it makes an enormous amount of money for very few people who tend to green the legislature with lots of money to get lots of attention.”
“I’m glad the Senate President is saying what he’s saying,” Gelber said. “But, of course, he’s only the Senate President for two years and he’s only committing to this year. So this fight isn’t over. And unfortunately, so long as there are people with an enormous amount of money, millions to give to legislatures or governors, we’re constantly going to be fighting it.”