Politics: O-69

 

By Jeffrey Bradley

Skullduggery abounds. Did you know that Miami Beach is about to get gambling? Maybe not the kind that’ll attract the Rat Pack or professional cardsharps, no, but your grandmother for sure, the way a flame draws moths. What kind of gambling is this, you ask?

Bingo!

And when is Bingo not just Bingo?

When the commissioners get hold of it, of course.

…Raising a very interesting question: Is Bingo the gaming equivalent of a gateway drug leading to a slippery slope that’ll flume you straight into oblivion? Or just an innocuous pastime played by the walkers-on-tennis-balls set?

See here. Don’t be picturing elders dropped off by the Greyhound Bus-full down at Legion Hall digging out some plastized Bingo game on the shelf next to Parcheesi. Or the standing Sunday night Bingo game at the Standard whose plungers wager fiercely for spa gifts and other on-site amenities but not money. Oh, no. Let’s consult Title 46 of the Florida Statutes, specifically Chapter 849: Our new Bingo hall will be regulated by chapter FS 849.0931, under Crime and Punishment, er, Gambling and Crimes, where all it talks about is Bingo: the card size, form number, ticket count, all spelled out, along with precise definitions of the kitschy accruements — the 75 specially marked balls — plus the “Receptacles” (whatever they are), and those baffling but all-important “Sessions.” It’s quite specific about who rakes in the profit (nonprofits of long standing only, please); even how much can be won has all been proscribed. Another name for this is a blueprint for printing money.

This isn’t your father’s Bingo. Why play in some down-at-the-heels VFW Post where all you win is the take-home version of Whack-A-Mole when you can wager in comfort at the Ronald W. Shane Center sculling mecca? And not to worry if you’re not into shell rowing (Stroke, stroke, stroke! Bail, bail, bail!) and don’t know this facility on Indian Creek. You will. It’s privately built on city-owned land and, according to www.shanecenter.com, accommodates 200+ guests (400 theater style), comes equipped with a large outdoor patio and beautiful breezeway, and offers a caterer-friendly kitchen. Throw in “ample parking,” and we’re ready to rock.

Still, the esoteric nature and singular profile of this remarkable place will change drastically when the City Commission follows the recommendation of the Neighborhoods/Community Affairs Committee, which very recently approved the concept that the foundation running the facility offer a twice-weekly Bingo game in the second floor community complex.

You read it right (and here first): gambling on Miami Beach!

A watered-down version, sure. And a far cry from the casino-style gambling allowed on reservations or the onsite wagering of pari-mutuel locations offering dog or horse racing.

Or is it?

When the city wants something bad enough, it sure can get creative. Still, there’s a hint of let’s-fly-this-in-under-the-radar here that needs not be. Why use Doolittle tactics when you’re finally finessing creative leadership? Do you see? Nobody wants elected (or administrative) officials sitting around waiting for the next bus — not even those of us who have to. Good Ford! Ladies and gentlemen of the commission, this is hardly the time to hide your light under a bushel.

We understand that cops and firemen — the most easily recognized hands of those in the till — are loath to return a plug nickel they’ve wrung in concessions. And the cost of running a city and making up a budget shortfall must be brutal… Still, you’ve all elected to do it, and here we are. (On that score, at least, may we offer this tidbit of advice? Don’t be in such a rush to put everyone’s behind in this kind of financial sling again, OK?)

Another beneficiary is the Shane Center itself. And who with better right? Maintenance on this icon of the oarlock must be more of a drag than a sea-anchor in heavy weather. The seawall is decaying, and drainage at the wash-down station isn’t quite right. Other vexing problems loom like that gurney in the heart attack commercial that follows its victim around even onto the golf course (luckily it gets stuck in the automated hospital doors). How to raise this money? The lease is quite clear about responsibility of maintenance falling upon the lessee. Sounds like Dr. Shane will have to keep ponying up.

But the second floor was “built as an annuity” for the rest of the facility, an unassuming Dr. Shane explained before the committee. Adding that on weekends they’re booked with “weddings and bar mitzvahs for years to come,” that’s only two nights a week; they still need to fill the other five. Thus was the Bingo idea borne, and sent off full-tilt to the City Commission. On such small pivots does history turn.

Call us prescient — or is it just that our spies are everywhere? — but we bruited about nearly the same thing back in January, in Crapped Out: “Better yet, Plan B, the Fontainebleau files for bankruptcy and the city buys it and farms out all resort and casino operations (don’t actually want City Hallers running it; can’t see the mayor or commission wearing green eyeshade visors or brandishing a croupier’s rake). That way, we pocket all of the loot, split it with no one and, we could make a killin’, Jack. There are scads of buckets of ducats to be made.”

We added the bold italics to emphasize the plan’s brilliance (ain’t quoting oneself a gas?), but, you do get it? That the city’s game plan is a mirror image of our own, we mean. Think on it. By insinuating gambling into a lease agreement (and they call us brilliant?!), the city artfully dodges those nettlesome state regulations concerning gambling and keeps much lucre for itself. Now, when they find a way — and the cahones — to charge market rates for parking, it will positively rain gold. Then we can get on to more important issues, like implementing the South Beach streetcar — which will take real leadership, you betcha.

All of which leaves the question of whether Bingo is “gateway gambling” or not unanswered. For now.

 

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