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Florida's Indian casinos raked in $2 billion in 2009

Some of the 800 Vegas-style slot machines installed at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Hollywood, Fla.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times (2008)

Some of the 800 Vegas-style slot machines installed at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Hollywood, Fla.

Indian casinos in Florida raked in about $2 billion in 2009, the first full year the Seminole Tribe operated Las Vegas-style slot machines and dealt blackjack under a deal with the state.

Florida was the fourth-richest state for tribal gambling, behind only California ($7.7 billion), Oklahoma ($3.1 billion) and Connecticut ($2.2 billion), according to the 2011 Indian Gaming Industry Report.

The Seminole Tribe owns seven of Florida's eight Indian casinos, including Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood. The Miccosukee Tribe has a Miami casino but offers only bingo-based slots and poker.

Statewide, Indian gaming revenue increased $193 million, or 10.4 percent, in 2009 from a year earlier. That was a strong performance in a year when the sour economy forced gamblers to rein in spending, wrote economist Alan Meister, the report's author.

Revenue at Indian casinos nationally were flat. Gaming revenue in Nevada fell 10.4 percent, the largest single-year loss in state history.

Gary Bitner, spokesman for the Seminole Tribe, didn't confirm the figures but called the study "a well-respected publication."

A 2007 agreement signed by Gov. Charlie Crist allowed the Seminole Tribe to replace bingo-based slots with Las Vegas-style machines and deal blackjack in return for giving the state a share of the take. The Florida Supreme Court invalidated the deal. But the tribe moved ahead, insisting the federal government blessed the agreement.

Last year, legislators, facing a deep budget shortfall, passed a new $1 billion gambling compact with the tribe. The state gave the tribe exclusive operation of blackjack, baccarat and chemin de fer at five of its seven casinos and exclusive operation of Vegas-style slots at it four casinos outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

In return, the tribe guarantees Florida $1 billion over five years. The state will receive at least $150 million for each of the first two years, and a minimum of $233 million in years three and four and $234 million in year five. Or the state can get 10 percent of net revenue from the exclusive games starting in year three — whichever amount is greater.

The Hard Rock in Tampa is planning a new hotel tower, meeting and convention space and a music venue, Meister wrote. Tribe representatives talked about expansion plans — even displaying a drawing of a guitar-shaped hotel — while lobbying for the latest compact.

But the tribe's governing council has not approved moving ahead with construction yet, said Bitner.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8128.

$2 billion

Revenues of Indian casinos in Florida in 2009 (only California, Oklahoma and Connecticut had more)

10.4 percent

Gain in gaming revenue in Florida in 2009 compared with 2008, an increase of $193 million

10.4 percent

Loss in gaming revenue in Nevada in 2009 compared with 2008, the state's largest single-year loss ever

Florida's Indian casinos raked in $2 billion in 2009 03/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 2:25pm]
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