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Trigaux: Florida's Indian gaming industry rebounds after recession but new competition looms

In January, Seminole Hard Rock Tampa executives and entertainers smashed guitars to celebrate the grand opening of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa's.state-of-the-art poker room. The non-smoking poker room features 46 tables, 40 TV sets, and a drinks and snacks bar. [ANDRES LEIVA | Times]
Published Apr. 10, 2017

Let's not forget another Florida business that's booming right along with tourism.

Florida's Indian gaming industry is prospering with more than $2.6 billion in casino revenues, growing faster than the state's economy. By size, the Sunshine State ranks third among the 28 states where Indian tribes operate gaming businesses.

Florida's success in Indian gaming outstripped the industry's national gaming growth in 2015. Florida gaming revenues soared 9.3 percent. Nationwide, such revenues rose 5.5 percent. This was the sixth straight year of growth following the Great Recession and generated a record $30.5 billion in gaming revenue nationwide.

"Indian gaming experienced strong growth on a nationwide basis in calendar year 2015, more than doubling that in 2014 and surpassing its pre-recession growth rate for the first time," says an annual report on the Indian gaming industry published by Casino City Press and released Monday.

Still, the bulk of Indian gaming activity remains concentrated in a handful of states. California and Oklahoma, No. 1 and 2 in size in Indian gaming, account for 40 percent of industry revenues. Among the top five states — including Florida, Washington and Arizona — revenues approach 63 percent.

Nevada, of course, leads all states in total (Indian and non-Indian) casino gambling revenues.

The Indian gaming industry was born in the early high-stakes bingo halls run by Florida and California Indian tribes in the 1970s. In Florida, that modest start ballooned quickly to include slot machines, poker, blackjack and other card games.

By 2015 (the most recent national data available), two Florida tribes operated a total of eight gaming facilities, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa. Combined, those facilities are packed with more than 14,000 gaming machines and nearly 540 table games.

However, the Seminoles' compact with the state that granted it the right to offer Class III (Vegas style gambling) gaming legally expired in 2015. The Florida Legislature is currently considering various bills that range from maintaining the compact largely as is (but would require tribes to pay billions more to the state) to expanding gambling in Florida.

There are still other legislative possibilities, including whether lawmakers legalize commercial resort casinos.

As bullish as the outlook seems, the report on Indian gaming also raises some warning flags. More competition to Indian gaming is possible as more tribes try to gain rights to open their own gaming facilities. Next-generation gamblers share different gaming interests, the report adds, showing little interest in slot machines. And gambling over the Internet, the report suggests, may be the greatest threat of all.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

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