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MGM's ARIA Resort & Casino opened almost a year ago in Las Vegas. The photo shows the opening-night fireworks Dec. 16. MGM confirmed that it is scouting sites in Florida should the Legislature pass a gaming bill and that it has visited Jacksonville in...
Jax Daily Record Friday, Nov. 11, 201112:00 PM EST

MGM scouts Jacksonville for resort casino

by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

With a bill pending in the Florida Legislature to allow the construction of three destination resort casinos in the state, one major player in the industry acknowledges that it has looked at possible sites in Jacksonville if the law allows it.

“We’re looking at a lot of areas in Florida to see what kind of opportunities might exist,” said Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International.

The bill introduced by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Palm Beach) and Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) would create a state gaming commission and allow the commission to regulate three destination resorts with “limited gaming” and other tourism facilities.

Much of the attention on the bill has focused on the possibility of casinos in South Florida, but the language of the legislation does not specify where the three resorts could be placed.

MGM has looked at sites in South Florida but also has sent a development team to Jacksonville to look at possible resort casino sites, Feldman said.

“We have tried to look at any of the viable, or what might be viable, areas in Florida,” he said.

MGM owns 15 properties in Nevada, Mississippi and Michigan, including some of the most well-known Las Vegas resorts: Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and The Mirage.

While MGM is looking at sites, any talk of a resort casino in Jacksonville is very preliminary because the company does not know what the final legislation might look like and whether it will even pass.

A resort casino project would require local approvals, as well.

“There are so many variables,” Feldman said.

One drawback of the current legislation is that it requires a company to invest at least $2 billion in the development of a resort property.

Feldman said that large of an investment would probably not be viable in Jacksonville, and MGM would be more interested in Jacksonville if it is allowed to develop a project in the $500 million range.

South Florida would be a more likely destination for a $2 billion resort project, which is why much of the focus of the gaming legislation has been on casino opportunities in that area.

Feldman did not know which areas of Jacksonville that the MGM development team might have checked out for possible resort sites.

“I believe they looked pretty much all over,” he said.

MGM would be interested in sites near other entertainment and hotel facilities to make it a more attractive destination, and Feldman said that would make the resort a good investment for the community.

Feldman was not part of MGM’s development team but he has visited Jacksonville in the past and thinks it would be a good site for a resort casino.

“I found it to be an incredibly pretty place,” he said.

The fate of the gaming bill is uncertain, because there is plenty of opposition to the construction of the casinos.

For example, a report in the Orlando Sentinel last week said that the Walt Disney Co. is strongly opposing the legislation.

The Florida Retail Federation issued a news release this week opposing the bill, saying new casinos would hurt sales growth of existing businesses.

“For Florida retailers, the short-term employment gains of expanding casino gambling would not be worth the long-term damage we might inflict on Florida’s family friendly brand,” said a statement by Florida Retail Federation President Rick McAllister.

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