Florida Gov. Rick Scott visited the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s headquarters Monday as the Seminoles unveiled details for a $1.8 billion expansion. They said they intend to build new hotels at their Hard Rock casinos in Hollywood and Tampa.
A new hotel would go up at the Hard Rock in Hollywood. It would be shaped like a guitar and dwarf the current hotel, which holds 500; the new one would add about 800 rooms. New additions to both properties could attract vacationers from South America, Asia, and everywhere else.
Scott, of course, is all about jobs. The tribe noted that the projects represent 14,585 construction jobs and 4,867 new full-time jobs. The governor was greeted by about 500 employees lined along the streets and the hallway to the Seminoles’ headquarters on Stirling Road, some of whom held signs saying “Thank You, Governor Scott.”
Scott and the Seminoles have a common goal: They want the $3 billion, seven-year compact they recently drafted and signed to be approved by the Florida Legislature. The tribe would be able to add craps and roulette and continue blackjack (which technically legally expired in July but is still being dealt at five of the tribe’s properties). The compact proposal is still in committee and could be derailed by those opposed to gambling or by legislators representing competing casinos.
The tribe’s presentation shows it's after customers with deep pockets. The Seminoles recently created an aviation division — to exclusively fly their best patrons — and the plans for the second hotel in Hollywood include villas that would attract families that might stay as long as a month. Seminole Gaming CEO James Allen noted that the tribe is shifting more toward entertainment and lucrative players.
“Our business model is not just to prey on the local player who has $20 or $30 in his wallet,” he said.
Renderings showed a large pool area and sunken water chairs in Hollywood and a rooftop pool in Tampa, where Allen notes space is tighter: Hollywood is a 100-acre property, Tampa about 33.
“The tribe has the financial resources to do it as well or better than anybody,” he said, noting that the Hollywood Seminole Hard Rock could rival places such as Atlantis and be compared to Las Vegas’ Bellagio, which even though it was built in 2002 is considered one of the city’s top venues. He said that he is trying to create something "iconic" and that “the compact is not about adding more machines. For those trying to derail it, it’s just not accurate.”
Concluding his presentation, Allen said, “Well, that’s about three or four years of work put into 15 minutes.”
In some ways, the tribe’s presentation to Scott was a case of preaching to the choir. He’s already approved the compact. It’s the Florida Senate, House, and committees along the way that need to be sold. (By the way, the conference was live-streamed, and publicists made sure everyone in Tallahassee knew of the event.)
But Scott loves to hear about jobs and people, and he, Allen, and tribal members sat at a business table with bottles of water in front of them for more than an hour.
“People want to hear how it impacts a person,” he said.
Seven people, whose work would be affected if the compact doesn't pass, spoke at the event, including a lawn service owner, two blackjack dealers, a floor supervisor, and a NYY Steak line cook from Haiti who sobbed the moment she told Scott that her sister had died and that she was taking care of her five children.
Scott was at his best, joking with the cook: “Do you make a good steak?” He also asked the speakers about their families.
A common theme among the speakers was uncertainty. Until they find out whether the compact passes (some in Tallahassee are pessimistic, so the tribe is running TV ads touting it, seeking public support), they’re not going to make major purchasing decisions. And they’re scared: The tribe says about 3,600 jobs would be eliminated if the compact is not approved and the table games are shut down.
Allen demurred on whether the hotels would go up if the compact doesn't pass.
The proposed compact is the most lucrative in the nation, which is not surprising, considering the Seminoles are the most successful Indian casino operation, with more than $2 billion per year in revenues. They also outdelivered what they promised to the state in the past five years, paying out $64 million more than the $1 billion promised.
“What the Seminoles have done in this state is remarkable,” Scott said.
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Allen noted that tribal compacts have been especially effective as a firewall against gambling expansion in states with only Indian casinos, such as Connecticut, Oklahoma, and California. There are eight racetrack casinos in South Florida, who could see their slot tax lowered from 35 percent to 25 percent and could begin to offer blackjack capped at $15 per hand if the compact goes through.
At a postevent news conference, Scott said that he respected the Legislature’s process but also that he was satisfied with his negotiations with the tribe.
Standing next to Allen and Chief James Billie, Scott said, “We did our part.”
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