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Billionaire with Miami Beach casino vision pushes legislature to update gambling laws

Fontainebleau Miami Beach owner wants to use Florida gaming license in Miami-Dade
Fontainebleau Miami Beach owner wants to use Florida gaming license in Miami-Dade

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Billionaire Jeffrey Soffer, the son of real estate developer Donald Soffer, is behind a new effort to update Florida’s gambling laws.

Miami Beach commissioners recently voted to hire lawyers to stop him from building a casino under the Fontainebleau Miami Beach brand.

Soffer’s vision goes against Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber’s mission to discourage late-night entertainment in the city.

“What they are going to want to do apparently is take casino licenses, take gaming licenses, gambling licenses that exist right now in parimutuels — slot machines, card games, and things like that — and allow them to become portable,” Gelber said.

The Soffer family’s Turnberry Associates bought the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, at 4441 Collins Ave., in 2005. The property is now under Jeffrey Soffer’s Fontainebleau Development, which also owns neighboring Miami Beach property.

Jeffrey Soffer has owned the Big Easy, formerly known as the Mardi Gras Casino and Race Track, in Hallandale Beach, since 2018. He has Florida licenses for racing, cardroom, slots, and combos. He also partnered with Koch Industries Inc.’s real estate unit to revive his vision of a Fontainebleau Las Vegas.

A gambling bill is being drafted in the legislature and it will be unveiled in the next few days.

“We believe it has the support potentially of the governor and of the legislative leadership,” Gelber said.

Billionaire Norman Braman, who lives in Indian Creek, said he is opposed to gambling in Miami-Dade. He was against the Genting Group’s plan to use the Miami Herald’s former Biscayne Bay property to build a hotel and casino.

“This is poison for our community,” Braman said.

Armando Codina, a real estate developer based in Coral Gables, developed Downtown Doral. It’s near the Trump National Doral resort property that Eric Trump recently touted as a potential gambling destination.

“Casinos are the most selfish industry on the planet,” Codina said, adding he doesn’t want them in Miami-Dade.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Thursday that he has had discussions with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which owns The Guitar Hotel and six gaming facilities in Florida.

“The Senate has had ongoing discussions with the tribe, but today was really to bring the parimutuels in, see how things are going,” DeSantis said.

In 2018, the Seminole Tribe and The Walt Disney Co. joined forces in an attempt to limit the expansion of gaming in Florida.

Soffer could not be reached for comment in time for this story’s deadline.

About the Authors:

Michael Putney came to Local 10 in 1989 to become senior political reporter and host of "This Week In South Florida with Michael Putney." He is Local 10's senior political reporter. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.