Saturday, July 21, 2018
Business

Seminole Tribe's $1.6 billion expansion hinges on fate of gaming compact

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is planning a $1.6 billion expansion of its casinos and hotels in Tampa and Hollywood that could create 4,000 permanent jobs.

But it says those projects won't happen unless Florida's leaders and the tribe agree on a new gaming compact that would allow the Seminoles to continue offering banked card games like blackjack.

"If nothing happens," Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Tuesday, "both of these projects are on hold."

The 2010 agreement that granted the Seminoles the exclusive rights to run card games of baccarat, blackjack and chemin de fer at five of its seven casinos is set to expire July 21.

The Seminoles' gambling operations generated $255 million for the state last year. The expiring compact generated about $116 million of that.

But the fate of that agreement — whether to renew, alter or scuttle it — rests in Tallahassee.

Under federal law, the governor negotiates the compact and the Legislature has to approve it. In reality, it's a three-way negotiation among the governor, lawmakers and tribal leaders.

But tribal general counsel Jim Shore said the tribe hasn't heard from Gov. Rick Scott's office since January.

"Whatever the state wants to do, we'll deal with it," Shore said. "But right now we're not getting a lot of communication from the state on the table gaming part of the compact."

Tribal leaders have been meeting with legislators, however, and have mobilized lobbyists.

The Times asked Scott's office about the status of the negotiations and when the next session will take place. "We will take the time that's needed to get the best deal for our state," spokeswoman Jeri Bustamante said in an email.

Last week the Times reported that the tribe is shaping plans to add a new hotel to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which was built on tribal property in Tampa.

If built, the proposed 16-story, 537-room hotel would be the second-largest hotel in Hillsborough County behind the 719-room Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina in downtown Tampa.

The new hotel would also give the Seminoles' Tampa operation a total of 817 rooms next to its most profitable casino. The Tampa Hard Rock is the fourth-largest casino in the nation and generated 40 percent of the tribe's estimated $2.2 billion in total gambling revenues last year.

Tribal officials said that their Tampa plans go beyond a new hotel: They also want to build an entertainment venue and grand ballroom.

The price tag of the Tampa portion of the expansion project is about $650 million. The rest of the $1.6 billion would add a 1,000-room, guitar-shaped hotel to the tribe's Hollywood resort.

Those plans have not yet been approved by tribal leaders. But the leadership also made it clear Tuesday that the fate of those projects rests with the fate of the gaming compact. They want to see it renewed. But others have different ideas.

Last week, House Republican Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, rolled out a plan to overhaul Florida's gambling industry, which the Seminoles are not fans of.

Young said her bill would reassert Florida's control over the gambling industry and generate more revenue for the state. But critics said it would expand gambling by allowing outside gaming companies to open two new casino resorts in South Florida. It would also allow four dog tracks there to forgo racing altogether and instead offer slot machines.

The bill would also allow the Seminoles to offer the full range of gambling options like blackjack, craps and roulette — but the tribe would no longer retain their exclusive rights to banked card games in Florida.

Allen said that expanding gambling and allowing outside gaming companies to enter the state would be bad for Florida. It would be better, he said, to allow the tribe to continue offering a limited number of gambling options instead.

Young's office did not return a request for comment.

Contact Jamal Thalji at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.

Comments
He was fired after an encounter with a ‘racist’ customer. After sharing his story, Home Depot changed its mind.

He was fired after an encounter with a ‘racist’ customer. After sharing his story, Home Depot changed its mind.

After a man last Thursday approached the checkout at a Home Depot in Albany, New York, staff member Maurice Rucker asked him to leash his dog. That’s when the man exploded.Rucker, a 60-year-old black man, claimed he was fired Tuesday after defending ...
Published: 07/21/18
Open office plans are as bad as you thought

Open office plans are as bad as you thought

A cubicle-free workplace without private offices is supposed to force employees to collaborate. To have them talk more face-to-face. To get them off instant messenger and spontaneously brainstroming about new ideas.But a recent study by two researche...
Published: 07/21/18
Officials speak out against demolition plans for historic Jordan Park section

Officials speak out against demolition plans for historic Jordan Park section

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County School board chair Rene Flowers was fired up Friday. She talked about growing up in Jordan Park, the city’s first public housing project and a sentimental and historic marker of St. Petersburg’s African-American commu...
Published: 07/20/18
Florida is still paying SunPass contractor, even after officials said they would stop

Florida is still paying SunPass contractor, even after officials said they would stop

Florida has not stopped paying the SunPass contractor responsible for the tolling system’s outage, even after transportation officials said the state would suspend all payments.In a letter on Monday, FDOT secretary Mike Dew said the state would not p...
Published: 07/20/18
Florida among the top 3 states with the most income inequality

Florida among the top 3 states with the most income inequality

Florida is one of three states in the nation with the biggest income gap between the very rich and everyone else.In 2015, a family in the top 1 percent nationally had an average income of more than $1.3 million — or 26.3 times as much as the $50,107 ...
Published: 07/20/18
Tampa International Airport ranked in top 10 for defense against cyber threats

Tampa International Airport ranked in top 10 for defense against cyber threats

TAMPA — Tampa International Airport was ranked this week as the 10th safest U.S. airport to go online without being hacked, but the ranking is not only about the place, but also about how savvy its travelers are.The data security firm Coronet ranked ...
Published: 07/20/18
When suicide threats come calling: ‘I try to make a connection.’

When suicide threats come calling: ‘I try to make a connection.’

TAMPA — At first glance, it’s a typical office with more than a dozen cubicles under florescent lights. The operators wear headsets and stare into computer screens, some tinkering with handheld toys, others browsing Facebook or chatting with colleagu...
Published: 07/20/18

State record of $321 million in unclaimed property back to residents and businesses

More than $321 million was returned to Florida residents and businesses from the state’s unclaimed property in the past fiscal year.Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis took office in July 2017 and said this year’s total broke last year’s rec...
Published: 07/20/18
Trump ready to hit all Chinese imports with tariffs

Trump ready to hit all Chinese imports with tariffs

Associated PressPresident Donald Trump has indicated that he’s willing to hit every product imported from China with tariffs, sending U.S. markets sliding before the opening bell Friday. In a taped interview with the business channel CNBC, Trump said...
Published: 07/20/18
Tampa Bay and Florida businesses expect tariffs to drive prices up

Tampa Bay and Florida businesses expect tariffs to drive prices up

TAMPA — Tariffs imposed by the Trump administration and other countries are beginning to push up prices and depress demand in spots around the Tampa Bay area and Florida, business executives say."We’ve definitely seen that the tariffs have increased ...
Published: 07/20/18