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Seminoles’ CEO suggests bid process for Florida expansion

By Nick Sortal, CDC Gaming Reports

The Seminole Tribe of Florida was noticeably quiet during the state’s legislative session, which ended last week. But Jim Allen, Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment’s president and CEO, dropped quite the bombshell last Thursday at a conference in Miami.

Allen suggested that any expansion of commercial casinos in Florida should involve a competitive bidding process, rather than simply adding slots at more racetracks, reported James Kilsby for Gambling Compliance, the only media covering the event.

“In my opinion and on behalf of the tribe, if the state wants to enhance revenue from gaming, then run a process … and attract great companies like Steve Wynn’s, like MGM, like Station [Casinos], Penn National Gaming, like LVS,” Allen told delegates at the International Masters of Gaming Law (IMGL) spring conference. “If we’re going to do it, then let’s do it right.

“Obviously our preference is for the Seminole Tribe to continue to enjoy our semi-exclusivity… and we’re happy to put billions into the state,” Allen added. “But if the state is at the point where they don’t want to do that, then we’re happy to move on.”

Just a week earlier, the state had once again failed at attempting to pass a comprehensive gambling bill. The blackjack portion of a five-year agreement between the Seminoles and the state expired in 2015.

Now state officials are waiting on the release of a state Supreme Court decision regarding a case that could permit eight Florida counties to add slots at racetracks without legislative approval.

Kilsby also related that Allen said the tribe is relaxed as to whether Florida keeps their revenue stream from the Seminole’s tribal casinos, or instead pushes to expand the state’s commercial gaming sector.

Interestingly, Jim Rosica of FloridaPolitics.com reported this week that the tribe continues to make payments for blackjack exclusivity to the state, despite a legal ruling that voided their requirement to do so. The tribe is doing so out of good faith in the hopes of brokering a deal. The cut of the money from blackjack is being “administratively segregated” in the General Revenue Fund.

Allen was in Ottawa, Canada, on Monday and in London on Tuesday and unavailable for further comment. But his thought of opening up gaming to bids is what the Seminoles did in Canada, which was announced Monday.

It took a competitive procurement process, through the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, for Hard Rock International to receive approval to develop Hard Rock Casino Ottawa. The multi-phase project is expected to potentially create 1,900 construction-related jobs and 2,000 direct and indirect ongoing jobs via a partnership with Rideau Carleton Raceway.

A bid process also would greatly affect existing pari-mutuels. The Gambling Compliance article also quoted Allen as saying the state should not make a “big mistake” by simply permitting slots at tracks throughout the state.

The racetrack casinos have underperformed, citing high slot taxes and a competitive disadvantage when compared to the tribe. Allen said they would struggle to attract the capital or personnel to develop destination casinos, and that would have a negative impact on how gaming in Florida is perceived.

Meanwhile, most racetrack casinos push for decoupling, which renders them the same in the eyes of consumers as any other casino.

But while Allen made the suggestion of a bid process, there are several factors that prevent it from happening. The racetrack casinos are heavy contributors to the state legislators – the decision-makers – and the anti-casino forces would pitch a fit at the idea of such rampant expansion. The best bet for Allen’s idea would have been for the state to years ago – long before a 2004 statewide amendment began the process of introducing slots to South Florida – implement a structured gambling expansion. Instead, the state has, bit by bit, expanded gambling in a piecemeal fashion, and now arrives at a point where a consistent legislative policy would require painful backtracking and extraordinary compromise. That train has long since left the station, that horse is already out of the barn, and that Elvis has left the building, athankyouverymuch.