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Friday, Sep 19, 2014
Business News

Seminole Tribe casino rolling to tune of $886 million

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Some slot machines at Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino will pay out a few dollars at a time to winners, while big-time winners can go home with several hundred thousand dollars. As for how much the casino itself generates in revenue, that’s long been a tightly kept secret. Now, a few hints are starting to emerge.

Based on state figures, it’s possible to project an overall revenue figure topping $886 million in fiscal year 2013-2014, going up in later years. That easily makes the Tampa location the largest Seminole casino in the state by revenue, while total revenue among all Seminole casinos likely tops $2 billion a year, according to state projections.

Such gaming revenue represents an increasingly important source of taxable income for Florida, just as the casino seeks to expand and the Seminole Tribe and the governor try to hammer out a new compact to govern gaming in the state — during an election year.

Seminole Hard Rock officials declined to comment on revenue figures for any of their casino sites, but they are not disputing figures first reported by the Sun Sentinel this week that calculated the tribe’s take from several casinos across Florida.

The Hard Rock in Tampa already ranks as one of the largest in the world by some measures. It houses 4,600 slot machines, and the complex spans more than 190,000 square feet, rivaling the size of some small shopping malls. More than 3,400 people work at the casino, which operates around the clock and often sees 10,000 to 15,000 visitors a day. During big occasions like the Super Bowl, the site reaches full capacity and can’t let in any more visitors.

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Revenue figures for the casinos come through a little-known part of state government: The joint House and Senate revenue estimating conference forecasts for sources of tax money, and what might happen to those sources if state laws shift.

During fiscal 2013-2014, state staffers project the Seminole Tribe will generate $2.1 billion overall, hitting an important threshold. The state takes a 12 percent cut of revenue if the Tribe generates less than $2 billion a year from casinos, but that figure jumps to 15 percent for revenue between $2 billion and $3 billion, and then 17.5 percent for revenue between $3.5 billion and $4 billion.

Some of the tax money ends up distributed to local governments. When the state sent that data in July to some local governments, it also disclosed something else: The percentage that each casino generated toward the total — so now it’s possible to project how much each casino site makes.

The Tampa Hard Rock generated a full 42 percent of all revenue from seven Seminole sites from Aug. 1, 2012, through July 2013. With that same percentage applied to the most recent fiscal year, that would mean the Tampa site is generating about $886 million a year.

Whether that figure is up or down from last year is unclear, because the 2012-2013 figures contained partial data. Still, $886 million is vastly more than other gaming sites in the state, including the Seminole Indian Casino and Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, with about $680 million. The Seminole Casino’s Coconut Creek revenue could top $352 million a year.

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As for Hillsborough County’s portion of the take, in fiscal year 2013, the county received $1.87 million, according to Tom Fesler, director of business and support services. That figure may rise to $2.9 million in fiscal 2014, he said. The county directs gaming revenue to a number of local institutions, Fesler said: The Florida Aquarium, the Glazer Children’s Museum, Lowry Park Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and the Tampa Bay History Center.

With more casinos trying to come into Florida, the Seminole Tribe and Gov. Rick Scott appear to have on-again, off-again negotiations over a new gaming compact. Both walked away from the negotiating table this autumn, as they were no where near a deal over revenue sharing, according to attorneys for the Tribe.

Meanwhile, the casino here is working on a new expansion project by catering more to high-roller gamblers, the kind that may wager $100,000 or more on a single hand of cards. The casino has hired a staff of butlers to be at a guest’s beck and call 24 hours a day, and the casino is chartering private jets to pick up high-rollers and their entourages from anywhere in the world.

Depending on whether or how the tribe and the state cut a deal on a new compact, local casino executives say they might plan for a vast expansion of the site, with a major new hotel to house more guests.

While they merely represent projections, state data hints at an even brighter future for the Tampa casino. Based on projections for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the casino’s revenue might rise from $886 million to $912 million. Though it may be a long way off, state data suggests the Tampa site might crack the $1 billion a year mark about five years from now. rmullins@tampatrib.com

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