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Gambling divides the politics of the family behind the Fontainebleau and Aventura Mall

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Via @doug_hanks

In Miami Beach, Mayor Dan Gelber is campaigning for a referendum to approve an 800-room, city-owned hotel that Turnberry partner Jackie Soffer wants to build under a deal that not only bars gambling but prohibits the operator from owning a casino anywhere in the county.

“We didn’t want anything to do with gambling,” Gelber said.

Gelber, a former state lawmaker, is also helping lead the statewide fight to pass an anti-gambling constitutional amendment — a referendum that’s actively opposed by South Florida’s newest casino mogul, Turnberry partner Jeff Soffer.

“It’s terrible for the state,” Jeff Soffer said at a recent event at the private-jet terminal he owns at Opa-locka airport. “It will kill jobs.”

The mayor’s fall campaigning touches both fronts of a political fracas involving two of the most high-profile siblings in South Florida.

The senior partners in the Turnberry real estate empire have carved out their own lucrative fiefdoms within the family business: Jeff running Miami Beach’s largest resort, the Fontainebleau, an oceanfront hotel with its own casino ambitions; and Jackie running the county’s largest shopping destination, the Aventura Mall. 

During the last decade, the Fontainebleau has paid Tallahassee lobbyists to try and expand gambling in Florida and bring a casino to its oceanfront location. In January, news broke that Jeff Soffer was purchasing the Mardis Gras casino in Hallandale Beach. At the time, Soffer emphasized his purchase of the casino and race track was made on his own, separate from his family’s holdings under the Turnberry umbrella.

That distinction would become notable in the coming months, when his sister and other developers bid on the Miami Beach hotel project, under rules the city inserted into the deal contract that ban any bidder from also owning a casino in Miami-Dade.

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