The Florida Panthers could become the first major-league sports team linked with a casino under a proposal pitched to the Senate Gaming Committee Monday afternoon.
The Panthers' parent company, Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, last year joined forces with Nevada-based Boyd Gaming to develop a hotel casino adjacent to the BB&T arena and across the street from the Sawgrass Mills shopping outlet.
Details of the hotel casino were sketchy, but "what is not being planned is a traditional casino resort" because it would not include a convention center, Sunrise Sports & Entertainment President and CEO Michael Yormark said.
Instead, the plan is to develop a hotel and spa and a casino with table games and slot machines and minimal retail, according to Boyd Gaming Executive Vice President Bob Boughner.
Boyd Gaming already operates 22 casinos in eight states including Nevada, Louisiana and Mississippi. In 2006, the company bought the Dania Jai Alai after voters approved slots at pari-mutuels in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. But Boyd never introduced slots at the fronton and sold the property this summer.
Because of its proximity to the outlet mall and the BB&T arena, the Sunrise development is "one of the most compelling opportunities for gaming" in the country, Boughner told the committee.
"We believe it's the right project at precisely the right location at the right time," he said.
Sunrise Sports & Entertainment is midway through a 30-year lease of the arena, owned by Broward County, and needs the casino to compete for entertainment acts with the Seminole Tribe, which operates the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, about 10 miles away.
The Sunrise Sports & Entertainment "enterprise remains unprofitable due to an unbalanced economic landscape" because the Seminoles' casino profits allow them to "disrupt the market by overpaying for talent," Yormark said.
"Senators, this is simply not fair," he said.
The plan appears to be a scaled-back version of the destination resorts model pitched to lawmakers by casino giants Las Vegas Sands and Genting that would include convention center space as well as high-end retail.
Yormark said the plan "is uniquely positioned because of that mall across the street," and is a better fit for Florida than the other destination resort proposals because of its association with the Panthers and the mall. Yormark said the deal has the blessing of the National Hockey League.
"We know the South Florida marketplace better than they do. Plus we've got the best site," he said.
Monday's meeting was the last of the exploratory sessions the committee has held, including four meetings throughout the state.
Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said the committee, which will not meet the first week in January, will now focus on "what it wants to do" but gave no indication if the destination resorts would be included in the committee bill.
Richter set the odds of passing a comprehensive package at "50-50."
"There are so many different elements of the subject," he told reporters after the meeting. "There's regulations. There's dogs. There's integrated resorts. There's taxes. There's slots. There's the compact. There's decoupling. There's injury reporting (for greyhounds). If you take all those pieces of the puzzle, they don't snap together that easily. And that's what we're going to try to do. Figure out what pieces of the puzzle snap together."