Las Vegas Sands is mulling an array of options to bring a casino to Florida, with indications mounting that the effort is likely to focus on Jacksonville.
The largest gaming company by market value recently pumped $17 million into Florida Voters in Charge, a new political action committee (PAC) focusing on casino and gaming issues in the third-largest state.
Casino gaming in Florida is dominated by the Seminole Tribe, which operates under the Hard Rock brand. They control everything with the exception of Miami-Dade and Broward counties in the southern part of the state. There, slot machines and table games are permitted at racinos,
Recent documents filed by Florida Voters in Charge indicate the group is aiming to place two gaming-related initiatives. Both indicate Jacksonville is a potential destination for a new integrated resort. One of the proposals by the PAC would allow for a traditional gaming property, as long as it’s at least 130 miles away from tribal lands. It also requires the developer to commit to spending at least $250 million. However, the well-heeled Sands can easily digest the price tag.
A second pitch from the political group provides for the addition of three casinos in the state, as long as those venues are at least 100 miles from tribal lands, with a minimum financial commitment of $500 million.
Jacksonville Makes Sense
LVS has long tried to bring another gaming venue to South Florida to capitalize on the glitz, glamour, and heavy tourist traffic offered by Miami. So Jacksonville, in the northeast corner of the state, marks a shift in strategy for the casino giant.
However, Jacksonville offers advantages. With the Seminoles controlling seven casinos in the state, Jacksonville is the one city that meets the geographic parameters laid out in the Florida Voters in Charge proposals.
Additionally, the city is the state’s largest by population, according to Florida Demographics. There’s also a built-in audience thanks to a heavy military presence in the area. Naval Air Station Jacksonville is the largest such installation in the Southeast region and the third-largest of its kind in the country.
The city is also close to the Florida/Georgia border — another potential selling point because Georgia currently has some of the most restrictive gaming laws in the country.
Gaming Companies Spending Big in Florida
The combination of a lack of commercial casinos outside of the Miami area, efforts to usher in regulated sports wagering, and a large, growing population have gaming companies eager to enter Florida, and they’re spending big money to that effect.
In addition to the $17 million Las Vegas Sands is plunking down for its effort, online sportsbook operators DraftKings and FanDuel are spending well into eight figures to get a piece of the state’s sports betting market. But that effort is facing stiff opposition from the Seminoles.
Florida could become a focal point of Sands’ US strategy. Earlier this year, the company sold its Las Vegas assets to Apollo Global Management and VICI Properties, and an effort to bring an integrated resort to Texas died. Prospects for a New York City casino, something LVS is rumored to be bidding for, also appear murky.