Monroe County Commissioner George Nuegent stood before the county council the other night and proceeded to open the pandora’s box that nobody in the Keys, at least nobody in their right mind, wanted to hear. Nuegent wants to put a casino in Marathon. Specifically, at Marathon Airport. He gave all the usual rhetoric, property not being used to it’s full potential, it will bring in revenue, jobs, diverse economy, all that bullshit. I suspect it was all presented real slick, promises of great wealth and the answer to all the Keys economic woes will be solved if we just agree to one little gaming site off to the side, out of the way, where it won’t bother anyone. The revenues from gaming would pay for everything! The wastewater projects, sewers, road improvements, puppies and unicorn farts for everyone! Think of the welfare of the Keys. Sorry, not buying it.
The casino battle in Florida has been going on for years. I remember when the casino issue came up in the ’80′s. A state referendum came up to allow casinos in Florida. It was shot down like kamikaze pilot by the voters. “That’s it!”, everyone said. That’s the end of casinos in Florida. Well, take a drive up the turnpike and see what is sitting in Hialeah and Hollywood. Casinos are here and spreading like vd at a southern baptist convention. Why? Money of course, lots of money. The gaming lobby is very wealthy and influential. Sort of like the terminator of industries. It shows no pity, no remorse, and it absolutely will not stop until you are dead and broke.
About a year ago I had a talk with a friend who owns a little resort in the upper Keys. We were bitching about all the road construction that tied up US 1 while the new sewer lines were going in, another project steeped in corruption but that is another story. Anyways, he pointed out that the real reason the sewer lines were going in was not to handle the current amount of waste coming out of the Keys, but to handle the expected increase as the new resorts with the casinos moved in. In other words, this has been planned for long time and Nuegent’s little proposal is just testing the waters to see if the timing is right. There is no doubt who’s pocket he is in.
If by chance When his proposal makes it to reality, then it makes it that much easier for more casinos to come in and before you know it we are living in Key Vegas.
So what’s wrong with casinos?
Nothing, if that is your thing. Entertainment, gambling, the chance to strike it rich, the glitz, the glamour, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous.
Everything, if it ain’t your thing. High crime, gambling, (the house ALWAYS wins), the noise, the plastic fakeness, the crappy service jobs, and a higher cost of living in a place that is already too expensive to live.
When I was working in the sport diving industry many years ago the industry held a convention every year to show off the new gear and meet and greet with all the industry leaders. Every other year the convention was held in Las Vegas. I made two trips there, and I will never go back. Take every movie, tv show, story you have watched or read about Las Vegas. It is exactly the way it is portrayed in the media. A smarmy, plastic, fake little world designed to do one thing, separate you from your money. Boon to the economy? Las Vegas has one of the worst housing markets in the country right now. It belongs out in the desert, away from the real world.
So how will this all play out? Let me give you my take, remembering I am a bit of a pessimist about this.
As far as I am concerned it is a done deal, it is just a matter of when, not if, casinos come to the islands. The bribes are in, the payoffs are planned, it’s now just an exercise in rhetoric and show until they get what they want. So let’s say we are at the point where the first casino has been approved. The site is picked out and construction is about to begin. Remember that the plans have been drawn up years in advance and the buildings are as good as done.
So let’s address the idea of jobs. Yes, there will be construction jobs. A project like this will probably take about year or so to complete, at least the first resort anyways. Think any local construction companies will be in on this? Think again. These resorts will be built by out of county, and most likely out of state companies, Oh, someone along the way may put in a stipulation that a certain percentage of the work be given out to local firms but you can bet it will be little more than token work just to satisfy the requirements. Bank on the fact that the gaming industry has their own companies poised and ready to do the main construction. Local companies will be lucky to get a bid to build a tool shed. A few local tradesman may latch on for some temporary work but that will be it.
What about jobs after the casino is built?
Like most regular resorts in the Keys virtually all jobs will be service oriented. Housekeeping, janitors, waiters, busboys, bartenders, valets, things of that nature. A lot of that labor force will commute down from the mainland in Miami as they do now. Some will come from illegal immigrants which is big business in the Keys. All of these type of jobs will be low pay, few benefits, and high turnover. Anything higher up, managers, gaming operators, the ones making the real money, will all come in through the gaming industry from other parts of the country. Some services may be farmed out to local businesses like pool care or landscaping but again this will be to appease the locals and only be a temporary move until the resort can hire it’s own staff at a cheaper rate. And those local companies who did win bids for these services will find out that the cost vs benefit ratio is not a profitable business model.
These resorts are essentially self contained villages. They are designed to keep you and your money on the property during your stay. The casino itself has no windows or clocks. They want you there concentrating on giving your money to the machines and gaming tables. There will be restaurants on site, and most will offer other amenities such as watersports, diving, fishing trips, etc. All on site and designed to keep you on the property. As a result, the local business’s that offer these same amenities, the local restaurants, the local dive shops, the local fishing charters, are going to lose business. The casinos, because of all the money they will be bringing in from the gambling will be able to offer these amenities cheaper or as package deals. The smaller independent business’s won’t be able to compete. Eventually, as these small independent businesses fall by the wayside, they will go out of business or get bought up by the larger resorts as they look to expand.
So what about the resorts themselves compared to existing smaller resorts? Let me give you a comparison.
My friend who I had the discussion with over the sewers runs a small resort in the upper Keys. Not very big, about 12 rooms or so. But the place is beautiful. The grounds are amazing with exotic tropical plants, lush gardens, and a small but semi private beach overlooking the bay with a small lagoon and plenty of room to just sit back and chill. There is a small pool and despite being right on US 1 you rarely if ever hear the traffic. The man and his wife own the place, building it from a dump to what it is now. They have two friendly helpful and pretty young ladies who work as managers handling the bookings and acting as concierge for the guests. More than likely they will know you by name by the next day of your stay. They have a personal grounds keeper taking care of the landscaping who takes an obvious pride in her work. The housekeeping staff is friendly and always there to help. You won’t hear any machinery like leaf blowers or wet vacs running. The atmosphere is one of laid back and relaxing. There are plenty of local restaurants in the area and the girls at the front desk can hook you up with anything from Eco tours to fishing to diving.
The alternative, and the future style resort is right up the street. (I’ll leave specific names out but if you know me then you know where I am referring). The Keys resort of the future is a new multi story building, built as a conventional meaning non tropical style. Lots of concrete, very sterile, and modern looking. The rooms may have a tropical motif to them but if it wasn’t for the view outside you could just as well be in a hotel room in Vegas or any other nondescript city. The grounds are well kept but the plants are pretty much mundane or brought in from off the islands. The general look gives the impression that it was all slammed together with a weekend run to the Home Depot. No imagination or real thought was put into the design, just a standard run of the mill cookie cutter, here this will make a good picture on the website, type of landscaping. The parking lot is your standard old blacktop and half of it is restricted to specific people, meaning not you.
The staff is an exercise in everything that the Keys is not. The housekeeping staff is bussed in from the mainland. None of them speak any English and I suspect if you walked through the resort wearing a border patrol shirt they would scatter like flies on a turd. None know or care who you are so don’t expect much in the way of quick friendly service. The waitstaff, bartenders, hosts are all locals. They are professional service staff. They move here and make the rounds from one resort or bar to the next. Working until the conditions or money doesn’t suit them. They are friendly enough but they are usually restricted so much in their ability to go above and beyond the normal means of customer service that it is useless to expect anything but the minimum. Everyone on the lower wage scale is expect to wear the required resort uniform no matter how uncomfortable or unusable it is. It’s all very conforming to a long list of resort standards, to keep up the proper air of professionalism.
The concierge, the hosts, the ones who check you in may also be locals. But they are a bit cold, rarely learning your name or caring to. They will usually try to keep you on the property when it comes time to find a place to eat or do any other activity. Some will only point you to off property amenities for which they receive a kickback from.
The managers are all brought in from out of town or out of state. I distinctly remember one in particular who walked around the resort all day dressed like it was winter. You could tell he was completely out of his element in the islands. Hair slicked back, clothes fresh out of dry cleaning with not a spot or a wrinkle, an undershirt under a resort themed tropical shirt with the tail tucked in, and socks with polished shoes. (Note: Anyone who knows anything about the Keys never wears socks or polished shoes around here. You are on a tropical island, act like it)! I can’t imagine how the man stood the heat and humidity dressed like that. You could see in his face that while he thought it was a good idea at the time to relocate to the Keys, he just wasn’t fitting in. Other managers, and there are many, are similar in style. And their attitude is one of being a bit stressed and wound a bit too tight for Keys living.
Finally the owners, or investors. Rarely showing up and then just to throw their weight around and scare the lower staff. One is a famous athlete who’s name is feature prominently in the advertising to entice people to come. He shows up once in a while to press the flesh, drink a few free beers, grab a paycheck, and go off to other things.
The whole atmosphere at this place is one of detachment and general unfriendliness. A sterile environment meant to remove you from your money. Music blares from speakers outside around the pool and bar. Inside there are televisions everywhere blasting the latest sporting event while waitstaff and cook staff have to yell to each other to be heard. Every amenity costs extra. Even the pool costs extra and you have to wait your turn. Everything is expensive and the quality is not there. Drinks are made from pre made recipes. Food is rarely local, usually trucked in. It’s a very plastic fake world and that is what is coming with these damn casinos.
Am I wrong about all this? Shit I hope so, but I know better. This is what is coming when the casinos get here. An expensive plastic fake world on what used to be an island paradise. It may sound defeating but I am guessing the wheels are in motion. People like Nuegent are just the front men and I hope the son of a bitch chokes on the results.
A couple of years ago somebody proposed turning the Keys into a National Park. It was shot down of course but it may have been the solution to stop this. The only other solution I can think of is to blow up the bridges at the ICW, secede from the union, and hang all the politicians and lawyers. But what do I know.
Sorry for the long winded post today but when I read the story I felt inspired to write about it. Not that any of it will make a difference. What does a multi billion dollar industry care about what some dumb broke ass blogger writes about. But it makes me feel better, in a fake plastic sort of way. The bottom line, casinos are coming to the Keys. It is just a matter or time. What happens after that, who knows. But some day, 5 or 10 years from now, when you are down here in Marathon on a gambling junket, and you just lost your pension at the craps table, and you are sitting in the Starlight room drinking a pre packaged rum runner while listening to a Jimmy Buffett impersonator trying to belt out another rendition of “Margaritaville”, try to think back to this post and remember…”Hey, that Fritter guy was right!”.