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Seminoles in Tampa Expand Casino While Broward Seminoles Wait

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The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, FL will today at 12 noon, open its newly improved wing for the general public.

The $120-Million expansion makes this the largest casino in Florida. It will have 3,075 bingo style slot machines that are amply spread about over 3 acres of gaming floor. The casino is said to be ready to plug in Las Vegas style slots if, and when, the State of Florida will allow them to do so.

Currently, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino draws an average of 11,000 customers daily, with peaks during tourist season of 20,000.

The hotel features 250 rooms and John Fontana, president of Tampa Hard Rock said, “I could use another 750…”

On November 15, the second phase of the expansion will be opened and will include a VIP Lounge with a chef on duty and a high stakes gaming room.

Speaking of the popularity at the Tampa casino, Fontana said, “We’ve had nights when every machine had someone in front of it and people standing behind them. It’s not about having just enough, it’s about having plenty.”

Plans and construction on this casino expansion began before the Seminoles and Florida’s Gov. Charlie Crist were directed to find a compromise and agree to a compact by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Governor’s staffers are set to meet with representatives from the Seminole Indian Tribe on Monday to try and resolve any issues that have not yet been resolved between them.

Governor Crist is in a delicate situation regarding this issue. Members of the state legislature are currently in a power struggle with the governor over whether or not he has the right to make a deal of this nature without their approval. The governor believes he has the right to “act for the state”, while legislators argue they have an obligation to approve or reject the deal.

“A lot of people have the right to make their cases,” Crist said. “It’s the judges that ultimately decide and I’ll leave it to the judicial branch.”

Florida lawmakers are meeting in a special session next week in an effort to reduce the state budget, Crist is hoping to have the deal inked by then so he can present it to them. The differences between the governor and the legislature are growing, tension is building as legislators have said that Crist hasn’t even shown them drafts of the deal.

Many different interest groups are keeping a close watch on this issue as pari-mutuals in Broward County feel they will be financially destroyed if the Seminoles are allowed expanded gambling which may include certain table games, while they are excluded from offering similar action. And, of course there are the conservative groups that think all gambling should be removed from the face of the earth.

Buried within the agreement is a provision that says if the state wants to give the tribe additional casino games such as roulette or craps, a simple “Memorandum of Understanding” could be signed by the governors to include them in the compact. This alone may be the sticking point for the legislature as they see this as an expansion of the governor’s powers. Barry Richard, an attorney for the Indian Tribes said that this was designed to streamline changes to the compact only if voters approve future constitutional amendments that allow for additional gambling.

Details will be worked out, and deals will be made. Florida must ensure that it is the recipient of tax revenue from this industry, and the Seminoles are more than willing to contribute. If the Interior Department has to get involved and make a decision, there will be no revenue for the state. Work it out so that all Floridians benefit from those tax dollars governor.

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