Make us your home page

Vegas-style slots on way to Tampa's Hard Rock

The state's only Las Vegas-style slots outside South Florida could flash and spin as soon as next week at Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

A public debut for 725 new machines is set for May 1. But the first few will go live a week to 10 days earlier, said casino president John Fontana. "It's exciting to not have to hold anything back and have all the tools in the tool box," he said.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida won the right to operate slots at its seven Florida casinos under a deal signed by Gov. Charlie Crist and approved by federal officials in January.

Tampa's casino is the largest in Florida with 3,200 Class II gaming machines. They look like slots but are actually electronic bingo games where players compete against each other. Gamblers play against the house on Vegas-style slots, called Class III devices, the same type used in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and other gambling meccas.

Crews will swap out 75 to 100 of the old machines a day once work begins. Fontana expects to have 1,675 slots, just over half the casino's total, by the end of May.

The tribe's first Vegas-style slots appeared in Broward County at the Hollywood Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in January, followed by its Coconut Creek casino. Three Broward race tracks already had slot machines that county voters approved in a 2005 referendum.

The agreement with the state also allows the tribe to operate the state's first legal games of blackjack, baccarat and other "banked'' card games where players bet against the house.

Seminole officials are in the process of hiring 3,650 dealers for their Florida casinos. The new card games should start at the Hollywood casino in June and reach Tampa by late summer or fall, according to Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen.

Florida is guaranteed at least $100-million in gaming revenue from the tribe this year. But the deal is being challenged at the Florida Supreme Court by House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, and Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie. They claim Crist overstepped his authority by signing the agreement without legislative approval.

"I oppose expanded gambling generally,'' Rubio said Monday in response to a question from the Times. "But I'm especially opposed to high-stakes gambling that's never been approved by the voters'' as is the case in Hillsborough County.

Business picked up at the Seminole casinos in Broward after a marketing blitz and news coverage on the Vegas-style machines, said Gary Bitner, a tribe spokesman. The old bingo-based machines still have a loyal following, he said. But the new slots attracted more veteran gamblers.

"No question there are educated players who were waiting for Las Vegas-style slots and (otherwise) wouldn't make a return visit or regular visits,'' said Bitner.

Steve Huettel can be reached at or (813) 226-3384.


On the horizon

What's new: Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino will debut 725 Vegas-style slots by May 1. Casino president John Fontana expects to have 1,675 slots by the end of May.

What's next: According to Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, card games could start at the Tampa casino by late summer or fall.

Vegas-style slots on way to Tampa's Hard Rock 04/14/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 14, 2008 1:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  2. New owners take over downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus


    ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown German beer-hall Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg has been bought by a partnership led by former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants president Keith Sirois.

    The Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg, located in the former historic Tramor Cafeteria, St. Petersburg, is under new ownership.

  3. Boho Hunter will target fashions in Hyde Park


    Boho Hunter, a boutique based in Miami's Wynwood District, will expand into Tampa with its very first franchise.

    Palma Canaria bags will be among the featured items at Boho Hunter when it opens in October. Photo courtesy of Boho Hunter.
  4. Gallery now bringing useful art to Hyde Park customers


    HYDE PARK — In 1998, Mike and Sue Shapiro opened a gallery in St. Petersburg along Central Ave., with a majority of the space dedicated to Sue's clay studio.

     As Sue Shapiro continued to work on her pottery in St. Petersburg, her retail space grew and her studio shrunk. Now Shapiro's is bringing wares like these to Hyde Park Village. Photo courtesy of Shapiro's.
  5. Appointments at Raymond James Bank and Saint Leo University highlight this week's Tampa Bay business Movers & Shakers



    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. Jackson will oversee all of Raymond James Bank's operational business elements, risk management and strategic planning functions. Kackson joins Raymond James Bank after senior …

    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. [Company handout]