Seminole Hard Rock needs new State Compact for Global Expansion

Tribal leaders want to expand the promotional reach of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, Florida. They already have a multi-million dollar plan in place to do so. But the tribe says they can’t make it work without renewal of their existing State Gaming Compact, set to expire in a few months.

Seminole Hard Rock Casino TampaAt present, the Seminole Hard Rock is drawing plenty of local clientele from the Orlando and Tampa area. Tribal officials say their 244-room hotel and 5,000 slot machine casino floor are near filled to capacity on a regular basis. They wish to go global with their promotional campaign, but it wouldn’t make sense to do so without expanding the property first.

“Right now our business model does not allow us to market in those areas,” said Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming, in a statement to Tampa Bay Times. “If someone from those areas calls up, we don’t have the room for them.”

Getting approval for the expansion isn’t the problem. Tribal officials are worried that the State Gaming Compact will expire, which will revoke their current right to exclusively offer table games like blackjack, baccarat, roulette and craps.

As Nova Southeastern University’s Professor of Gambling Law, Bob Jarvis, put it, without those table games, tourists won’t travel all the way to Florida to visit the casino. “Those people are going to go to Disney. Nobody is sitting there saying ‘Let’s go to the Hard Rock,’” said Jarvis.

If the compact is renewed by May 1 (when the current session ends), the Seminole Hard Rock would be poised to undergo a massive $650 million expansion that would see a new 16-story tower erected next to the casino.

The tower would house an additional 573 guest rooms, increasing the Hard Rock’s capacity to 817 rooms and making it the largest hotel in Hillsborough County. The project would also include a new restaurant and bar, large enough to accommodate 250 people, a new ballroom, pool deck and a 450-space parking lot.

According to Allen, this project has been on the back burner for years now, and if the compact’s renewal is not a success, it will remain on hold indefinitely. “The tribe is certainly preparing as if the [compact] approval is coming. We would take into account not just the agreement itself, but especially the state of the economy in Florida,” explained Allen. “We want to make sure we’re very cautious about moving forward. We saw what the crash in 2007-08 did to local businesses and unemployment.”

Negotiating a new compact is of utter importance to the Seminole tribe right now. The current contract will expire on July 31, 2015, and there’s a Florida casino bill on the legislative table that would bring 2 Las Vegas-style resort casinos to Broward and/or Miami-Dade Counties.

Thus far, Gov. Scott has refused to negotiate directly, and the tribe told reporters last week they feel like they’re being blocked out. Jim Shore, General Counsel for the Seminoles, said then, “We don’t know what negotiation means. We’re talking to legislators, trying to educate them on the compact and stuff, but we haven’t had any specific person or office to negotiate directly yet.”

If the compact is not renewed, and that bill is passed, table games will become available at these newer, billion-dollar destination casinos. In turn, the Seminole Hard Rock would be able to legally provide table games, but at the same time, it would greatly increase competition and could put a strangle-hold on the tribe’s plans to expand and market internationally.