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Top Florida lawmakers to Genting: Shut up

State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff and Rep. Erik Fresen, the two South Florida Republicans sponsoring legislation for mega-casinos in the upcoming session, don't want Malaysian casino giant Genting to keep touting its plan for The Miami Herald and Omni properties in downtown Miami.

"They messed up the message," Bogdanoff, of Fort Lauderdale, said of Genting officials. "Back off. You have nothing -- you have a pretty picture."

"The rendering that was released was helpful at first," added Fresen, of Miami. "Miami-Dade County was thirsty for a vision of economic development, and that hydrated them."

But hydration, Fresen said, led to "waterboarding," with early supporters of Genting's plan turning skeptical about the massive proposal's scope.

Bogdanoff gave Genting a similar warning in Tallahassee last month, during a Senate committee meeting where she called the company's promises "over the top." She and Fresen spoke in equally strong terms before The Herald's editorial board Thursday morning.

Bogdanoff said Genting had gone overboard in its push for the casino, drowning out any policy conversation. She asked them to "tone it down."

The lawmakers say they don't want the discussion over their legislation to focus on Genting or any of the other large casino operators who want permission to operate in South Florida. Instead, they argue, the debate should be over how to regulate gambling and "redirect" it from small-scale casinos and Internet cafés to high-end casinos that will draw international tourists.

"I am still an opponent of an expansion of gaming," Bogdanoff insisted. "If we're going to have gaming, redirect it."

Echoed Fresen: "If I could hit Control-Alt-Delete, I would do away with the lottery."

As for the Genting proposal, the two said it faces long odds of being built as proposed.

"What you saw as a rendering was just that," Bogdanoff said. "One idea from one person that may never get built."

Though the lawmakers' bill does not require any voter approval -- citing the slots referendum Miami-Dade and Broward voters passed seven years ago -- they admitted that a ballot question may be added to the legislation to make it more palatable to anti-gaming legislators.

"We probably will have to add an additional referendum element to the bill," Fresen acknowledged. "I think it will pass overwhelmingly in Miami-Dade County."

However, he said the recent idea floated by Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez to put a gambling straw poll on the January primary ballot was premature.

"I think it's putting the cart before the horse," Fresen said, noting that a majority of Miami-Dade voters are registered Democrat. "Most of the people in this county will probably not be voting" in a Republican primary, he said.

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