If you live in South Florida, you’ve surely seen the advertisement for All Aboard Florida. The massive project will see a high speed commuter train traversing the rails between Orlando International Airport (OIA) and downtown Miami, with additional stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Now tax payers in some communities—none of which the train will stop in—are labeling the commuter train the Casino Express.
The concerns stem from places like Brevard County, where $330,000 a year is being reserved to maintain rail crossings, even though the train will make no stops in the area. That’s a steep cost with no expected revenue generation to come from it. Tax payers all along the Atlantic Coast are citing similar concerns.
Apprehensions over Florida’s new high-speed rail project aren’t anything new. Back in 2013, a memo was sent out by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority in which they expressed the “exceedingly concerned” opinion of the tourism industry “that the railroad is a front for gambling.”
According to a report from Channel 9 Eyewitness News, it’s been discovered that the terminal in Miami will be located “about a mile and a half from the proposed site of a new casino.” The waterfront property was purchased for $420 million in 2011 by Malaysian-based gambling company, Genting. The Eyewitness News report said, “the property is connected to the train terminal by Miami’s elevated Metro-Mover.”
Genting announced plans to turn the property, which currently houses the Miami Herald, into a 5,000-room resort casino in 2012, but Florida legislators have expressed no interest in approving destination casinos following largely vocalized opposition from the public. However, with the so-called Casino Express not due for completion until the end of the decade, Genting still has plenty of time to sway officials.
“All Aboard Florida is not associated or involved with any gambling initiatives nor plan any involvement in the future,” All Aboard Florida told Eyewitness News. “Our passenger service is a viable business model that will serve millions of passengers each year and is in no way dependent upon any outside activity or venue.”
County Watch spokesman Mike Cantone disagrees. “There should be more concern locally. All Aboard Florida will turn into the casino express,” said Cantone.
When you dig down into the heart of the matter, it certainly appears that Cantone is right. All Aboard Florida is owned by Florida East Coast Industries, which was procured by Fortress Investment Group in 2007. The investment firm has strong ties to gambling businesses, including Penn National Gaming, which “owns, operates or has ownership interests in gaming and racing facilities” all across the US. Fortress also owns Flagler Development, a former employer of Adam Hollingsworth, Chief of Staff to Governor Rick Scott.
Hollingsworth was working for Scott around the time he took office, before making the transition to Flagler. Inside sources say he assisted in scripting a letter from Gov. Scott in 2011 rejecting a request from Federal Transportation to fund a $2.4 billion project for a high-speed rail from Orlando to Tampa. Then, after working in Flagler’s right-of-way access division, Hollingsworth returned to Gov. Scott’s side to replace then Chief of Staff Steve McNamara upon his resignation—a resignation that took place in 2012 after McNamara met with Hollingsworth.
The following year, Secretary of Florida DOT, Ananth Pasard, who was all-but hand-picked for his position by Hollingsworth, announced a 50-year right-of-way access lease with All Aboard Florida along The Beachline of State Road 528, which happens to connect OIA to the rail already operated by Florida East Coast.
In a letter sent earlier this week to Michael Reininger, President of All Aboard Florida, Gov. Scott seemed to be sweeping the topic as far from his office as possible. He asked Reininger to, “be sensitive to the impact of additional rail traffic in the rail corridor to our communities, their home values and public safety.” Gov. Scott then requested an extension of the 75-day allowance for public comments to 90 days, saying communities should have “more opportunity to have their specific concerns addressed.”
As the multitude of connections relating to Casino Express appear less and less coincidental, Frank Collins, the governor’s Communication Director, issued the following statement:
“All Aboard Florida is 100 percent a private venture. No state funding has been provided, and no subsidies for future operations will be provided for the project. To help ensure families have their voices heard, Governor Scott has asked All Aboard Florida and the Federal Railroad Administration to extend their comment periods so families questions are properly answered.”