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Miami mayor hedges his support of Genting casino, which is counting on South Florida eclipsing Las Vegas Strip in gambling dollars

The developer behind a plan to build the world’s largest casino on the Miami waterfront predicts gamblers will spend more in South Florida than they do in the Las Vegas Strip, the kind of grand transformation that now has the mayor of Miami rethinking his support of the project.

The Malaysian-based Genting Group released a one-page summary of an economic study it commissioned saying the addition of three 5,200-room casino resorts would generate as much as $6 billion in gambling revenue a year. The Vegas Strip, long considered the hub of American gambing, generated $5.7 billion last year, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

The striking numbers come on the heels of a letter by Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado to Genting Chairman K.T. Lim that rolls back the mayor’s previous embrace of the company’s planned Resorts World Miami casino resort on the city waterfront.

“I believe that your proposed project may be one of the best things that ever happened to our community -- or the worst,’’ wrote Regalado, who in June presented Kim with the key to the city shortly after Genting paid $236 million for the Miami Herald’s waterfront headquarters. “It is too early in its planning to tell.”

The mayor’s Nov. 8 letter calls for both Miami and Genting to “stop and think and work together, carefully and unrushed, to avoid any problems that may develop” with the massive project, which would include 5,200 rooms and nearly four times as much gambling space as the largest casino in Vegas. Genting issued a statement Wednesday saying it was “working closely with authorities at all levels of government" as it moves forward with the proposed development.

Genting hired Spectrum Gaming Group to prepare an economic study on bringing three casino resorts to South Florida. On Wednesday Genting released a one-page letter by Spectrum stating three casino resorts would generate between $4.5 billion and $6 billion in casino winnings a year. The letter does not make the Strip comparision, but Spectrum managing director Michael Pollock said it’s reasonable to imagine South Florida eclipsing Sin City.

“You’ve certainly got the population,’’ Pollock said. “You’ve got the tourism infrastructure. You’ve got access to multiple markets -- many of which are untapped by gaming, such as Latin America.”

Pollock said the study was based on three resorts the same size as Resorts World Miami. That would mean world’s three largest casinos would operate in South Florida. The letter was released the same day Genting executives made their case in front of a Senate committee considering a industry-backed bill that would allow three casino resorts to open in South Florida.

In an interview, Regalado said his letter does not reflect a change in his position, and that the Resorts World Miami project would not be too large for the city as long as Genting can address traffic woes and new strains on city services.

“It could be manageable,’’ he said. “But we just need to understand what kind of impact it will have.”

Regalado's newest statement is "gratifying" to business leader Norman Braman who recently met with the mayor urging him to reconsider his views on gambling.

"I think it gets back to the more that people really think this through, the more they realize and understand all the pitfalls that casino gambling will bring to this community," Braman said. "I don't think Tomas Regalado wants his legacy stained by being instrumental in bringing casino gambling to this community."

Braman, who recently engineered the successful recall of Miami Mayor Carlos Alvarez, said he will make it his mission to defeat the casino gambling bill and the potential of three destination resort casinos in South Florida. He said he's received an flood of calls in the last few weeks from other community leaders interested in supporting his efforts.

"I will do whatever is necessary to prevent casino gambling from coming into this community," Braman said. "People now are really waking up to what's happening.This is an assault on our quality of life."