Jacksonville City Councilor Reggie Gaffney said Thursday he understands that global casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp. considers the Jacksonville International Airport area a potential site for a casino complex when Florida voters approve a nationwide gambling referendum in November 2022.
Gaffney said a location on the Northside would give casino guests easy access to the airport for combat links during their stay and also help attract Georgia residents by placing the casino on the Jacksonville side closest to the state line.
Regardless of where a casino is built in Jacksonville, Gaffney said he would support having one in town.
“Getting this type of business into the city of Jacksonville just needs to increase the tax base and create more jobs,” said Gaffney. “Jacksonville has so much real estate here that we can do so many things together.”
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Mayor Lenny Curry also expressed support for a Jacksonville casino on Thursday.
He said in a tweet that Jacksonville “is now a top sports entertainment destination and I welcome the opportunity to add games to the city’s offerings.”
“I look forward to speaking with gaming executives about our potential and why we are the right choice for Las Vegas Sands,” he said in the tweet.
Las Vegas Sands Corp. did not answer phone calls for comment.
The company has eight properties in the United States and Asia and employs 50,000 people, according to its website. Founder Sheldon Adelson, who died in January, created a business model that unites casinos, luxury hotels, meeting rooms, restaurants and entertainment in resorts that the company describes as “one city under one roof”.
Gaffney noted that nothing would happen if voters didn’t approve it in a statewide election. Las Vegas Sands donated $ 17 million to the Florida Voters in Charge Political Committee in June for these efforts.
Gaffney backed a county referendum that won 54 percent of Duval County’s voters back in 2016 for Bestbet to add slot machines to its Arlington poker room. But that move failed because the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state legislature would have to amend the law to allow a county referendum to open that door.
In 2018, Florida voters changed the state’s constitution by giving voters sole power to decide on gambling outside of tribal areas. This first requires a citizens’ initiative to receive a change on the ballot and then approve it at the polls nationwide.
“I think if we can somehow get this (statewide referendum) through, the city of Jacksonville should be able to control what it wants in its city – not in the state of Florida, but in the city of Jacksonville,” Gaffney said.
Florida Voters in Charge proposed two amendments to the Florida Secretary of State, who oversees the elections.
A change would allow a casino in a location more than 130 miles from any of the Seminole tribe casinos located in the southern portion of the state. This change says the casino is intended for a company that has an active card room license and will invest at least $ 250 million.
The Bestbet poker room on Monument Road has a cardroom license. The proposed change is that the casino would not be limited to the current card room location but could move to a different location in the county if the move occurs by the end of 2025.
The second proposed change, drafted by the responsible Florida voters, would allow for three new casinos located at least 100 miles from each of the Seminole Tribe’s casinos. The Florida Gaming Control Commission would issue this license based on the applications received, and each casino would require at least $ 500 million in investment.
This proposed change does not require the new casinos to be tied to companies that have card room licenses.
Gaffney, whose parish includes the Northbank of downtown, said when he first heard about the potential for a casino in Jacksonville, he first thought it would fit well with downtown.
He said he doesn’t think the city should step back from its efforts to bring development and activity to the inner city while awaiting the results of a November 2022 referendum.
The city council will vote this year on Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s proposal for a Four Seasons hotel development on city parkland near the sports complex. The Downtown Investment Authority is working on a plan to make up for the loss of what was once a kids’ campus by building a new park on vacant city-owned land called The Shipyards along the riverside downtown.
Gaffney said the city cannot “wait for the chance” that a casting will not be known for more than a year until voters cast their ballots in November 2022.
He said that when he meets with representatives from Las Vegas Sands, he will ask them to have a local partner for casino development in Jacksonville.
“I know they are doing great things in Las Vegas and other places in America and the world,” he said of Las Vegas Sands. “But my wish, and the first thing I’ll ask of them, is to partner with someone locally. I feel like the city of Jacksonville will benefit from having the locals involved in the process.”