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Tampa casino's new Vegas-style slots make formal debut

TAMPA — After dropping a fistful of quarters in one of the new Vegas-style slot machines at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, Dorothy Liberti retreated to recover from one of her old favorites, Triple Rolling Sevens.

"These new slots aren't as loose or I'm still getting used to them," said the 83-year-old Clearwater retiree. "I like the old ones."

With crowds flocking to the casino's first 725 Vegas-style games, the debate is raging if they pay as generously as their bingo-based predecessors.

Casino officials offer no particulars. But they say payoffs — required to be at least 85 cents on the dollar by the state's deal allowing the Seminole tribe to offer Vegas-style gaming — are about equal, about 95 cents.

But the chatter skips the big picture symbolized today when tribal leaders and Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander pull down the casino's first of eight slots that have a handle.

"The impact is going to be big," said John Fontana, president of the Tampa Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. "It makes us appealing to those who stay away because our games are unfamiliar."

The handful of one-armed bandits are a symbolic throwback. Most of the Vegas games come equipped with push buttons that unleash spinning reels or in some cases play a choice of video poker, keno or blackjack.

With Vegas-style Class III gaming at the tribe's seven Florida casinos, the Seminoles finally will have the same plethora of slots in land-based casinos that have been common elsewhere for years.

But by June 1, half the casino's 3,200 slot machines will be Vegas-style and dozens of video poker screens will appear embedded for the first time in bar tops. And this summer, several "million-dollar pull" mega-slots will debut that put players in massive nationwide jackpot pools.

Part of the deal with the state banned the slots to anyone under 21. Since April 1, 18- to 21-year-olds can play only table poker.

By fall, the Hard Rock will have table games such as blackjack, Pai Gow poker and baccarat.

The tribe's casinos, which signed up 500,000 of the 1-million members to the Players Club at Tampa, are changing the rules for its loyalty program.

The club, which enables the casino to track a member's spending and wagering, will be tiered to three levels offering bigger discounts to bigger spenders.

About three quarters of the 250-room Hard Rock Hotel is filled with Players Club members lured by discounts or free stays.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

>>FAST FACTS

A bigger draw

Traffic at the Hard Rock in Tampa has jumped by about a quarter in the past three years to more than 13,000 patrons a day. But about 90 percent of them are Florida residents.

With more common games, the casino, which draws about 30 tour buses a month, hopes to draw travelers and residents catching gambling boats, cruise ships or flights to more entrenched Gulf Coast gambling destinations like Biloxi.

Tampa casino's new Vegas-style slots make formal debut 04/30/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 2, 2008 10:01pm]
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