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Las Vegas Sands quits Florida, turns attention toward Georgia

Las Vegas Sands Corp. has abandoned a six-year effort to build a casino-resort in South Florida and has now focused attention on a potential gaming development in Georgia.

Andy Abboud, the casino operator’s senior vice president of government relations, confirmed publish reports from the Sunshine State that Las Vegas Sands had shut down its lobbying contracts in Florida. The company had focused its efforts on passing gaming legislation that would have allowed the company to build an integrated resort complex in the Miami area.

Bills favoring gaming stalled in multiple sessions of the Florida Legislature over the past few years. Lawmakers meet for six months every two years. Other gaming companies, including Wynn Resorts, MGM Resorts International, Boyd Gaming Corp. and Resorts World developer Genting Berhad, were also involved in the Florida efforts.

Abboud said the Seminole Indian Tribe, which operates seven Indian casinos in the state that are primarily concentrated in the south, was one reason Las Vegas Sands is abandoning the effort. The Seminoles opposed commercial casinos, but the tribe is also in the process of negotiating a new compact with the state.

The Seminoles want continued exclusivity to offer table games in Florida casinos. Racetrack and jai alai casinos offer just slot machines.

“There are so many challenges on the legislative front and the state has challenges passing budgets,” Abboud said last week. “But the negotiations with the Seminoles drive everything. They pretty much dominate the landscape.”

Las Vegas Sands never purchased land for a potential hotel-casino, unlike Genting which spent $236 million on a Miami site overlook Biscayne Bay.

“It’s not going to happen,” Abboud said. “There is no need to continue to pitch. Maybe we’ll come back another day. I believe we created some good will.”

Las Vegas Sands is now looking at Georgia, where lawmakers are in early discussions about allowing some form of commercial casinos possibly a full-scale resort in Atlanta and five smaller casinos in the state. Abboud confirmed Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson visited the state capitol in Atlanta last week. A photo of Adelson at the capitol appeared on the website of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

For now, Las Vegas Sands is “listening” to what state lawmakers are proposing. Abboud said the gaming idea is “new to them” and the company is interested in what is being discussed.

“It would be a mistake for us to try and convince them how to go about it,” Abboud said. “We can’t force ourselves into a situation that is not ready for a heavy lobbying effort. Once they figure out what they want to do, we’ll be in touch.”

Adelson’s visit came as special committees of the Georgia legislature are looking at the idea. Gaming would boost the tax revenue stream that funds the state’s public education programs. Lawmakers are expected to debate the measure next year.

MGM Resorts has been the most public about expanding into Georgia. Chairman Jim Murren said this summer the company would spend $1 billion on an Atlanta resort. Wynn Resorts is also reportedly interested in Georgia while the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Boyd Gaming and Penn National Gaming are lining up lobbyists for the 2016 legislative session.

Analysts have said a casino in Georgia would hurt casinos along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in Tunica, Miss.

Abboud said Georgia is creating a buzz because there isn’t any other gaming legislation pending that would add casinos to additional states. The American Gaming Association said casinos — both commercial and tribal — are located in 40 states.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Find @howardstutz on Twitter.

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