Gamblin' Men

Big-ticket casino deals plus a messy internal power struggle equals even more legal woes for the Seminole tribe

Cox contends that tribe officials felt compelled to rejigger the Hard Rock deal because he and Billie had been involved with it. "All these guys are concerned with is the appearance that they're doing something," he says. "I don't think they necessarily knew what they were agreeing to."

The tribe's attempt to rid itself of payments to Coconut Creek Gaming is just desperation to make the Hard Rock deal work, Cox says. Indeed, during a deposition taken in September 2002 for a civil lawsuit against the tribe, Jim Shore, long-time attorney for the Seminoles, suggested as much. "When we were financing the Hard Rock project," Shore said, "we wanted to make sure all of our other gaming documents were in order so as not to jeopardize the funds that we were going to raise for that project."

Paul Filzer, a Cleveland attorney who represents Coconut Creek Gaming, says it doesn't really matter why the tribe reneged. "The bottom line is we had a valid fully enforceable contract," he says. "I have no concrete evidence as to why the tribe stopped paying at Coconut Creek, and I have no evidence regarding their transactions in Hollywood and Tampa. I don't know the tribe's financial position to know whether or not they would have needed to take the payments they make to the Coconut Creek partnership and use that to fund their construction escrow account. Anything's possible."

Michael Austin
Michael Austin

Early in January, Billie showed up at Seminole headquarters and announced he was stepping back into the chairman's shoes. After a bit of a ruckus, Billie left at the request of tribal police. Asked about the casino contracts, Billie told New Times, "To tell you the truth, I haven't spent much time worrying about how the contracts are. I've been worrying about getting in first, and then I'll look at it. I'm sure it's not too far out of whack, but I won't know until I get in."

Cox says he believes the tribe will ultimately come up with the money needed to complete the Hard Rock resorts -- but at a greater cost. "The problem I see is, who's going to want to do business with them?" he concludes. "If you're a franchisor and you see what's been in the papers the last several years, would you really want to do business with them?"

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