Magic City Casino’s $750k Lawsuit Against City of Miami Moves Forward

  • West Flagler Associates granted permit for Miami jai-alai and poker facility in July 2018
  • City commission changed zoning rules in September 2018
  • Company sued city of Miami for damages
  • Prominent local businesspeople rallied against the proposed gambling venue
Man playing jai-alai.
A $750,000 lawsuit against the city of Miami over zoning rules affecting a jai-alai and poker facility project has been given the green light to proceed. [Image: Shutterstock]

Lawsuit concerns zoning changes

A court has given West Flagler Associates, Ltd., owner of Miami’s Magic City Casino, the go-ahead to proceed with its lawsuit against the city of Miami.

West Flagler sued the city in April of this year for $750,000 after the city’s commission altered the zoning code for gambling venues. The date for the proceedings was set for May 2020.

lawsuit is the result of a zoning law change approved in September 2018 by the city’s commissioners

In April 2017, West Flagler announced its plans to build a jai-alai fronton and poker room near Miami’s Edgewater community. Florida’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering granted West Flagler its permit last summer.

The lawsuit is the result of a zoning law change approved in September 2018 by the city’s commissioners. In a 4-1 vote, the commissioners passed a new rule that would require four of the five commissioners to approve any new gambling locations.

Casino owner feels targeted

West Flagler is seeking upwards of $750,000 plus the right to build its gaming establishment. The company argues that it announced its plans when the zoning rules allowed for pari-mutuel betting in the area and had been given written approval by the city. The rules were still in place when West Flagler received its permit.

West Flagler says that once it got the permit, it became locked into further commitments to Crescent Heights, the owner of the property where the fronton will be built. It has also already spent $350,000 on things like legal expenses before any construction has started.

Isadore “Izzy” Havenick, vice president of West Flagler, vehemently opposed the change. In September 2018, he told the commission:

You’re targeting us because we are the only ones with the ability to do this.”

The Miami Herald reported that commission Chairman Keon Hardemon, the only one vote against the rule change, stuck up for Havenick, saying: “The way that this ordinance is written has a negative affect on only one person, and that person is you.”

Commissioner Ken Russell said that he had heard from many local residents who opposed a gaming establishment in or near their neighborhood.

The jai-alai fronton would be located in Russell’s district. Havenick opined that because no residents of the Edgewater community were at the hearing, there was no real local opposition to the project.

Gambling would be limited

Havenick did expect some opposition, though. In order to assuage concerns, he and West Flagler promised that the facility would not house slot machines. The lack of slot machines also allowed the company to avoid additional legal hurdles regarding casinos.

The permit West Flagler was given is limited, called a “summer jai-alai” permit. Gambling on jai-alai matches is only allowed from May through November. In the off-season, the venue will host entertainment like concerts and improv comedy shows. The permit allows for poker games to be dealt after the first jai-alai game is completed.

Powerful local names against gambling

Despite West Flagler’s promises and announced limitations on the facility, prominent members of the community banded together to speak out against the project last summer.

Real estate developer Jorge Perez said he would do “anything in his power” to quash the project.

“We don’t need gambling in the city of Miami,” auto magnate Norman Braman told the Miami Herald. “We’re doing very well without it. Gambling is a parasite, and this is an invasion.”

“As a resident of that neighborhood, I don’t believe it’s a bad thing for the neighborhood,” Havenick countered. “This will be a good attraction. It is not going to be anything more than poker and jai-alai. We’ve said that all along. It is not a casino. It’s simply poker in an area that has many other forms of entertainment, and this is another form of that.”