A recent Miami Herald opinion piece by Pulitzer Prize winner Fabiola Santiago — “Last thing Miami needs is to become Vegas”, published on Friday — is astoundingly spot on. Astounding because it so frankly states why Miami should resist the false allure of the casino, and more so because the Herald’s previous coverage of the issue has been so slanted.
The piece starts with a lean declaration. “I hate Las Vegas,” Santiago says, before giving an explanation that does not ask for your agreement.
Everything about that city is a grand fake, a man-made mirage. From the moment you land to the second before you leave, with the addicted still gambling on the last machines by the boarding gate, everything turns into a manipulated experience aimed at evoking a cheap thrill, the kind that costs plenty, wanes quickly and leaves you empty.
There is a reason Santiago is sharing her hatred of a city more than 2,500 miles away: a strengthening push by local and state politicians to turn Miami into a gambling destination, a tropical Las Vegas. A Tallahassee court recently cleared the way for legislators to expand gambling in South Florida, and Malaysian conglomerate Genting plans to turn Herald plaza, a recent acquisition, into a “mega casino-hotel-restaurant complex”.
Not only will the complex — which she dubs “the monster on the bay” — snarl traffic downtown, says Santiago, but it will dissuade suburbanites from patronizing two up-and-coming neighborhoods, Wynwood and the Design District. “Who wants to be in the midst of addicted gamblers, high-stakes prostitution and organized crime?” she asks.
Santiago’s Genting-may-care language contrasts starkly with the Herald’s recent coverage of the casino issue, which has been decidedly non-confrontational since Genting paid Miami’s paper of record $236 million for its property (a deal that will allow the Herald to stay on site rent-free for two years). A Sept. 20 op-ed by Michael Putney, for example, called the Genting deal “a winning hand for Miami”, citing “billions of tax revenue and thousands of jobs” the resort will supposedly create.
Then there’s the series of shamelessly fawning stories by the Herald’s Elaine Walker, the most egregious of which has the cringe-worthy title “Genting Chairman ‘a very humble guy'” and leads off with the following pat of butter: “Genting chairman KT Lim may be one of Malaysia’s wealthiest individuals, but he still drives his own car, carries his own bag, answers his own phone and periodically travels economy class.”
The Everyman cred of a tycoon worth $665 million may be fascinating, but Santiago chooses instead to home in on the fact that a cadre of “short-sighted local leaders” with Lucky 7s in their eyes are pushing “economically beleaguered Miami” toward the garish and dubious promise of a gambling economy.
The threat that our city of refuge, a fledgling but celebrated arts and culture hub, a place where the homegrown and the newly arrived and the rich and poor rally with pride around the same sports teams — a young metropolis where the one good thing that grows is hope — would be turned by the machinations of city and state government into a Las Vegas-style destination sickens me.
Hear, hear. This is the language that this crucial issue deserves, not Putney’s convenient puns or Walker’s obsequious litany of a magnate’s endearing quirks. The wonder, as one commenter points out, is that the Herald let Santiago’s piece go to print in tact. “You work at the Herald and you wrote this?” ElTikiTiki wrote. “That is brave of you.”
Of course, it shouldn’t take bravery to talk tough in a big-city paper. But with the Herald literally bought by Genting, it took courage and a gambler’s willingness to lose it all. Hats off to Santiago for going all in.
To read “Last thing Miami needs is to become Vegas” in full, click HERE.