No Casino Licenses Likely for Trump Doral, Fontainebleau Florida Resorts in 2021

  • The senate president said lawmakers won’t mull casino permit transfers in the special session
  • Fontainebleau owner Soffer spent over $1m in political donations in a 2020 lobbying campaign
  • Eric Trump’s proposal for a Doral Miami golf club casino is also ruled out until at least 2022
  • Instead, the special session will focus on a 30-year tribal gaming compact with the Seminole
Trump Doral golf resort sign in Miami
Hopes for casino licenses at the Trump Doral golf resort and Fontainebleau Resort will likely have to wait until 2022, with no plans to consider permit transfers during an upcoming special session. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Bad news for casino hopes

Jeffrey Soffer, the owner of Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach, Florida, has spent months lobbying state lawmakers in an attempt to attain a casino license for the property. Meanwhile, Eric Trump, son of former president Donald Trump, proposed a casino at his father’s Trump National Doral Miami golf resort earlier this year. Now, it appears that both business moguls may have to wait until at least 2022 for those plans to come to fruition.

During a recent interview with CBS Miami, Senate President Wilton Simpson ruled out both propositions for now. He said legislators would not discuss the issue of casino license transferral during an upcoming special session beginning May 17. With the state’s normal 60-day legislative session over since April 30, lawmakers will not consider the subject until 2022 at the earliest.

We put out the call yesterday and it would prohibit that type of activity.”

“I do not think that that’s being contemplated in this special session,” the senate president said. “Actually, I know it’s not. We put out the call yesterday and it would prohibit that type of activity.” Simpson confirmed that any senator who proposed transferring a casino license during the special session would be ruled out of the order.

Soffer’s lobbying campaign

Simpson’s comments come amid concern that legislators may attempt to transfer Soffer’s casino license from his Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach to the Fontainebleau Resort during the upcoming session. The real estate mogul has led a lobbying campaign over the past year to gain the support of Florida’s lawmakers.

He donated more than $1m in campaign contributions last year, including nearly $400,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, and $350,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. The senate president used this to help elect senators statewide.

Soffer also hosted Republican fundraisers on his $272m mega yacht, with one such event in February playing host to both Simpson and Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls. The wine and dine event saw Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady celebrate his seventh Super Bowl win among the legislators.

Florida lawmakers were well aware of Soffer’s intentions regarding the Fontainebleau Resort. The senate president confirmed to CBS Miami that he had spoken with Soffer “several times” about the license transferral, adding that the real estate developer was always “very gracious” in those conversations.

Trump also denied

Speaking with the Washington Post in March, Eric Trump, son of former president Donald Trump, described his father’s Doral Miami golf resort as “a natural choice” for a gambling license. He pointed to the property’s 700 acres and its position in “the heart of Miami”. However, the country club has also struggled since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, with income down $57m from 2015 levels.

After Eric Trump announced his casino hopes, Florida’s gambling opponents were reportedly preparing for a difficult battle over the expansion. This is mainly due to the connections of Donald Trump, who boasts a close personal relationship with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The governor supported the former president during his re-election efforts last year.

Like Soffer’s plans however, Eric Trump’s hopes for a Doral casino will likely have to wait until 2022 at the earliest. Simpson ruled out any contemplation of a Doral casino during the upcoming session.

Gaming compact up for debate

While Simpson may have denied any hopes of casino license transferrals, the special session will feature discussions on another aspect of Florida’s gambling market. Lawmakers will consider a proposed 30-year deal with the Seminole Tribe announced by Governor Ron DeSantis in April.

the state expects to earn at least $2.5bn from the tribe during the first five years

If passed by the Senate and House, the compact would allow the tribe to launch both retail and online sports wagering in the state. The Seminole could also expand its gambling offering in other ways, such as the addition of roulette and craps. In return, the state expects to earn at least $2.5bn from the tribe during the first five years of the compact.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will discuss the proposal during its scheduled meeting on Monday, May 17, before the issue goes to the Senate floor the following day. The House plans to consider the proposal at the same time.