Making the News

Miami Herald

Originally Published:Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Original Seminole Casino still competes with flash of Hard Rock
The original Seminole Casino across the street from the flashy Hard Rock lacks some amenities but rolls on with strong customer loyalty.

By Michael Vasquez
Miami Herald


Five years ago, the Seminole Tribe took a gamble and opened its lavish, Vegas-quality Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood. No one knew for sure if it would work.

The venture was a rousing success, but perhaps more surprising has been the continued good fortune of the 30-year-old Seminole casino and bingo hall located across the street a facility the tribe initially thought it might tear down.

Though it certainly shows its age, is devoid of fine dining, and doesn't yet offer new games such as blackjack, the ''original'' Seminole Casino does brisk business. In fact, industry observers suspect it is busier than the newer parimutuel ''racinos'' that have opened in the past couple of years even though the racinos spent far more on improvements.

Hallandale Beach's Gulfstream Park horse track underwent a $230 million renovation during the past few years. The original Seminole Casino added a fresh coat of paint.

Casinos spend much of their time trying to one-up the competition in terms of glamour and fancy amenities. The Seminole casino thrives, somehow, by doing none of this.

The older casino still doesn't draw as many patrons as the Hard Rock, but that's nothing to be ashamed of given that facility's status as one of the busiest casinos in the country.

The tribe doesn't release specific revenue numbers for any of its casinos, so exact revenues for the old casino are unknown. But since the arrival of the Hard Rock, Seminole management says its modest original casino has wildly exceeded expectations.

''You look at the life cycle of a place in Vegas places that were successful 30 years ago have been torn down and rebuilt,'' said Steve Bonner, a general manager at the old Seminole casino.

'This little property just keeps chugging along, the 'Little Engine That Could,' '' he said.

Rather than cannibalize its own customers, the tribe's decision to operate two casinos right next to each other has given it a unique one-two punch. The Hard Rock casino woos celebrities and big-money players, while the dowdy neighboring casino packs in a more diverse, working-class crowd lured by quick, easy parking and outlandish, generous promotions.

At the Hard Rock casino they give away BMWs to patrons; at the original casino they've got Ford Mustang giveaways, and down-home pig races.

And who needs tablecloth dining when you've got a $5.99 prime rib buffet?

Some employees and patrons at the original casino have been coming since opening day.

''I rarely go across the street,'' said 48-year-old Lisa Roberts of Pembroke Pines, one such lifetime customer. The Hard Rock's sprawling design doesn't appeal to her.

''Everything is right here,'' she said. ''You don't have to walk as far.''

Unlike at many casinos, you won't often get lost at the original Seminole facility. Its compact, rectangular design is easy to navigate, with the gaming area roughly the size of a football field.

Joseph Weinert, a senior vice president at New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming Group, an industry research firm, calls the casino ''no frills gambling at its no frilliest.''


In part because of that bare-bones approach which requires no new marble floors or fancy rock memorabilia like the Hard Rock Weinert says ''that property has to have one of the highest operating margins of any casino on the planet.''

Dan Adkins, CEO of Hallandale Beach's Mardi Gras Casino one of three Broward parimutuel ''racinos'' to open since 2006 readily acknowledges the original Seminole casino does higher customer volume than his facility.

But Adkins says much of the Seminoles' strong performance is because the tribe isn't subject to the same legal restrictions as parimutuels.


The original Seminole casino can stay open 24 hours a day; Adkins can't. The Seminole property also allows smoking even at the poker tables, which is rarely permitted elsewhere.

''We're not even allowed to have an area with smoking,'' Adkins complains. ''So we can't attract any of those people.'' Seminole management says it's not just the ability to light up a cigarette that keeps the crowds coming. The casino recently invited Strictly Slots magazine to certify its slots as the ''loosest'' in town a label that will be highlighted in the magazine's next issue, as well as in Seminole advertising materials.

Though the original casino is certainly not new, Seminole management say they work hard to keep it well maintained.

''We want the experience to be the nostalgia. . . .We don't want dust on the walls,'' Bonner said.

In keeping with that nostalgia theme, the Seminoles are in the process of bringing in some slots that pay out prizes in coins instead of printed tickets a nod to the Vegas of old.

''If you've been playing slots your whole life, you miss the sound of the coins hitting the tray,'' Bonner said.

Perhaps nothing could be more retro than bingo, the game that started the Seminoles' gaming empire, as well as the nation's entire tribal casino industry. There's no bingo at the Hard Rock, but bingo is still profitable and strong at the original casino.


Following a nationwide trend of hipper bingo games, the Seminoles recently added ''Cosmic Bingo'' complete with black lights, glow sticks and a dance music DJ. There are two Cosmic Bingo sessions every Friday night, and usually at least one sells out.

And plain ol' regular bingo still has its followers, like Rose Fazzini, who turns 98 in August. Fazzini has been playing bingo here for 22 years.

Fazzini said it gives her a chance to get out of the house and stretch her arms as she marks the numbers called.

''It's my exercise,'' she said.


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