Las Vegas Sands making quiet push for Florida casinos

8 March 2011
LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A proposal that could create five Las Vegas-style casinos in Florida's largest cities could lead to a $1 billion to $2 billion investment by Las Vegas Sands Corp., which is exploring a potential resort development in Miami.

The casino operator has been working behind the scenes with Florida lawmakers on legislation that would create resorts with a hotel, gaming, convention space and other amenities.

Florida media outlets said a bill is expected to be introduced in the state senate today when the Legislature convenes in its regular session. The legislative session ends on May 6.

"Florida is much further along than a lot of people realize," Andy Abboud, Las Vegas Sands vice president of government affairs, said Monday. "There is a core group of leadership that is not looking at this as a moral decision but as a business decision."

The concept would place a hotel-casino in Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami and a location in the state's panhandle region.

Las Vegas Sands, which spent $5.5 billion to open the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore last year and has three hotel-casinos in Macau with other hotel-casino development in progress, views the Miami market as a logical destination for its integrated resort business model, which focuses on merging a hotel-casino with a convention center, a retail area, dining and other entertainment activities.

"We have had a lot of meetings with folks in the Miami area," Abboud said. "The legislation is being introduced to help grow the destination and have a strong convention component."

Las Vegas Sands doesn't have a development site in Miami, but Abboud said the company is looking at different options.

Las Vegas Sands received a subpoena Feb. 9 from the Securities and Exchange Commission requesting documents relating to compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The company was also advised of a similar investigation by the Department of Justice.

Credit Suisse gaming analyst Joel Simkins told investors it was too early to say what effect the government investigations would have on Las Vegas Sands and the company's growth opportunities.

Las Vegas Sands is also exploring casino development projects internationally in Spain and Japan.

In a research report, Simkins said the accusations, stemming from a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by the company's former chief executive of its Macau resorts, are not related to the operation of its gaming facilities.

"While uncertainty could linger over Las Vegas Sands shares, our contacts noted investors should not jump to any conclusions," Simkins said Monday. "Although accusations were made, it does not mean that it will amount to anything material from a punitive or financial perspective."

Florida State Sen. Dennis Jones, one of the co-authors of the legislation, said the integrated resort concept could help Florida expand both its tourist and convention market.

"Right now, we're not a major player in the trade show industry," Jones told the Florida Sun-Sentinel.

According to the American Gaming Association's 2010 State of the State report, Florida has four racetrack casinos in the southeastern portion of the state that collected $216.74 million in gaming revenues in 2009.

Casino City's Indian Gaming Industry Report, released last week, showed Florida with eight casinos operated by two Indian tribes. In 2009 the casinos collected $2.05 billion in gaming revenues, the fourth highest of any U.S. state.

Media outlets expected the Indian tribes and the racetracks would oppose the legislation.

Abboud said an economic impact study showed the Miami project could create upward of 100,000 full-time and part-time jobs, including temporary construction jobs, permanent positions at the property, and jobs related to new businesses created by the development.

Shares of Las Vegas Sands, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, closed Monday at $42.19, down $1.46, or 3.34 percent.

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