Fla. Indian casinos get slots Monday

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 8:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 8:23 p.m.

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - The Seminole Hard Rock casino is about to look a lot more like Las Vegas starting Monday.

The casino will begin operating 1,000 Vegas-style slot machines, long before anyone expected the new games to come online. Manufacturers were able to deliver the machines sooner than expected, said Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the Seminole Tribe, which operates the casino.

The new machines take bets ranging from a penny to $1,000, but bettors should not expect to hear the sound of coins clanging when they win. Pay outs come on tickets redeemable for money.

Gov. Charlie Crist and Seminole Tribe leaders signed a compact allowing Vegas-style gaming, including slots, blackjack and baccarat. The agreement, which went into effect earlier this month, has been challenged by state lawmakers who say they must approve any agreement Crist negotiates.

The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments about whether the compact is valid on Jan. 30. State leaders did not expect the Seminole Tribe to install and begin operating machines so quickly.

"This represents a reversal of what they said not very long ago," said Jill Chamberlin, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is opposed to increased gaming but not a party to the lawsuit, said in a statement that the justices should take into account how quickly the new machines appeared at the Hard Rock casino near Fort Lauderdale.

There is also concern about when the tribe will begin operating card games, which Bitner said are still months away from appearing in Seminole casinos.

"There is no existing pool of blackjack and baccarat dealers in Florida," he said.

Regardless of the Supreme Court decision, slot machines will not disappear from South Florida completely. Broward County voters approved slots at jai-alai frontons and horse and dog tracks, and federal law permits Indian facilities to operate any games the state allows.

The tribe negotiated its deal with Florida, however, to increase the number of slot machines it is allowed to operate in exchange for payments to state.

Tribal leaders expect the games to be a boon for gamblers and the state. "This is good for our players, good for the Seminole Tribe and good for the State of Florida," Seminole Chairman Mitchell Cypress said in a statement.

As part of the agreement to increase gaming, Florida has already received a $50 million payment from the tribe and is guaranteed $100 million in the first year. The state's share is set to increase to up to $150 million by the third year of the agreement, and after that will be based on revenues. Many expect the state's share to quickly add up to billions of dollars.

Bitner said the slot machines will be spread throughout the 145,000 square foot Hard Rock casino, but they will not be the dominant form of gambling.

More than half of the casino's machines will still feature electronic bingo.

The new machines are just the beginning. The Seminole tribe plans to install up to 15,000 slot machines at seven facilities around the state, although Bitner said it will take some time to get the machines delivered and installed.

The tribe operates another Hard Rock casino near Tampa, and has casinos in five other locations in southern Florida.

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