By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
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"The view is better on the other side," Pattison says. As he leaves the room, the worker sits upright on his plank bed and blinks hard. On the other side, 48,500 vehicles a day sluice along Florida's Turnpike. This roadway, Pattison hopes, will be the casino's lifeline, carrying many of the 20,000 daily visitors to the casino. Not many of those folks will wander in from the street, and they won't abandon the old casino, he says, which will, for the time, remain open.
On this day inside the nascent casino, construction workers with "American by birth, union by choice" stickers on their hardhats scuttle around pathways of particle board that is laid over the maroon-and-gold carpet. Just off the casino floor, a worker in jeans and a white T-shirt sleeps on a roll of carpet amid the shrill beeps of moving equipment and the Black Crowes warbling on the radio.
When this behemoth is finished, the tribe projects that it, along with the Tampa version, will net almost $5 billion in revenue over the next ten years, with gaming accounting for only 60 or 70 percent of that, Pattison says. There will be a 5,600-seat concert venue, a spa, a steak house, and a fountain to spray a wall of water that will function as a movie screen. This building's ambition is Bugsy Segalian.
"We're not really competing with South Florida," Pattison says. "We're competing with Vegas."
Bold words for a facility plunked a full seven miles from the beach, on a drab stretch of reservation between Davie and Hollywood. When plans for the hotel commenced in 2000, the Seminoles evicted residents of the 300-home Candlelight Trailer Park. The tribe has already shelled out millions to widen State Road 7 to ensure that the droves would drive on fresh blacktop north from Stirling Road to SW 51st Street. In 2007, the Florida Department of Transportation, which had planned to expand the road as part of larger improvements, will reimburse the tribe up to $15.5 million. An FDOT spokeswoman said any overruns would be the Seminoles' to swallow.
Pattison contends that large groups -- business conferences and the like -- will compose about 30 percent of the hotel business. The remaining 300-odd luxury rooms depend on tourists and locals willing to plunk down $125 to $1,600 a night to hit that huge water flume into the pool and maybe steal some really nice towels.
Bill Eadington, a professor of economics and director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada-Reno, estimates that the Hollywood property will be among the 15 biggest tribal casinos in the country. Still, he expresses some skepticism. "If there's a mistake in there, it may be overinvestment in the hotel side," he says. "The question mark is, is somebody going to spend that kind of money to stay in a nice hotel room in the reality of a working neighborhood?"
He and other analysts express concern that the constraints of Class II gaming -- no blackjack, craps, roulette, or other games against the house -- will hamper the casino. Such wagering is prohibited by Florida law, which rules even on the reservation. Unless the clubs and bars prove a huge draw, the place will depend largely on dedicated gamblers.
"Once you get in the gaming business, start making money, you try to upgrade your property, and usually you make a big mistake," says Don McGhie, a Reno gambling consultant who recalls fondly the good ol' days when the Mob ran Vegas. "I think it's an ego thing. Once [tribes] start making money, they want people to think they've increased their social status. It's pretty easy to do. Banks, they won't loan you money when you start, but when you're successful, they throw that money at you. And people can't refuse it. It has a way of affecting you mentally. You start thinking you're right when it comes that easy.
"The type of person they hope to draw -- that's where they'll have their problem, the big spender. They're going to draw the same crowd they have now. If they just put a tent up, they'd make just as much money."
Adam Fine, editor of Casino Player and Strictly Slots magazines, gushes over a visit to the Tampa casino but concedes: "They have a helluva nut to crack. They've got to do some brilliant marketing."
One potential customer who will probably avoid the property? James Billie.
"I am what you call casinoed-out, bingoed-out," he says.
All things to all people is a tough niche to fill. Two of the bingo babes from Tampa congregate in the casino's upscale restaurant, Floyd's, around midnight, by which point it's a thumping nightclub. Mills and Wheeler sit at the bar, grooving to the Eurythmics, drinking Coronas.
"We're really dating ourselves," Wheeler says. She surveys the dance floor. Earlier in the night, when the DJ was spinning mostly early-'80s tunes, some folks managed to get up and shimmy. One klatch of women was so moved by Billys Idol and Ocean that they piled their purses on the wooden dance floor and shook their tail feathers in a circle in "Lord of the Flies" fashion.