Making the News

Tampa Tribune

Originally Published:Thursday, October 25, 2007

A variation of the gaming industry's 'hub and spoke' concept could drive business to Seminole gaming operations here and in South Florida from a wider geographic region than is the case currently, said Michael Pollock and Joseph Weinert, analysts with The Spectrum Gaming Group, an international consulting firm.

The Atlantic City-based consultants made a presentation Wednesday to a regional leadership group at an event sponsored by the Tampa law firm Trenam Kemker.

Tampa May Win In Casino Evolution

By TED JACKOVICS
Tampa Tribune

TAMPA - The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa could become a regional hub for gaming operations, emerging as a strong tourist draw through incentives given to customers at other Hard Rock properties.

That is the assessment of two gaming industry consultants who spoke at a Tampa business forum Wednesday.

A variation of the gaming industry's 'hub and spoke' concept could drive business to Seminole gaming operations here and in South Florida from a wider geographic region than is the case currently, said Michael Pollock and Joseph Weinert, analysts with The Spectrum Gaming Group, an international consulting firm.

The Atlantic City-based consultants made a presentation Wednesday to a regional leadership group at an event sponsored by the Tampa law firm Trenam Kemker.

A spokesman for the Seminole Tribe agreed Tampa's Hard Rock casino operation, now the largest in Florida with the recent expansion to 3,200 gaming machines, could become a regional tourist attraction.

'Hard Rock is interested in cross promotions, and couple that with the fact that the tribe owns Hard Rock International, plus the success of our recent expansion in Tampa, and more growth is possible,' said Gary Bitner, a Hollywood, Fla., consultant for the Seminole tribe, in a telephone interview.

Florida is nearing a turning point in casino operations because federal law mandates that the state allow the same kinds of gambling on tribal lands as it permits private operators. Broward County voters approved Las Vegas-style slot machines at race tracks and the Seminoles, who run low-stakes, electronic bingo operations, want to upgrade their gaming.

Gov. Charlie Crist is negotiating with the Seminole Tribe, and that could result in exclusive rights to operate high-stakes table games, plus approval for Vegas-style slot machines. In exchange, the Seminoles might agree to agree to forgo their tax exemption on casino profits, which in turn could provide the state with as much as $200 million annually.

Pollock and Weinert said their outlook on the Florida gaming industry wasn't driven by political or social considerations.

In a brief interview after the session, the consultants reiterated their outlook that the local Hard Rock operation could become a base for growth as the momentum for gaming nationwide continues to expand with $60.5 billion in 2006 from commercial, Indian and horse track revenue.

'You cannot overlook the evolution of gaming into mainstream entertainment,' Weinert said. 'You just have to surf your TV. The Travel Channel might as well be the Las Vegas channel.'

Gaming's emerging hub and spoke strategy uses smaller properties as feeders to larger full-service gaming sites.

The concept rewards customers for their business, a similar strategy to that of airlines providing frequent flier miles. That encourages consumers with discount offers to travel to national or regional flagship venues in places such as Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Biloxi, Miss.

But Pollock and Weinert emphasized that states and cities hoping to reap financial and job benefits from gaming must be prepared to do far more than simply approve high stakes gambling, a lesson Atlantic City learned the hard way 35 years ago.

Atlantic City's population and downtown area continued to decline and the city's corruption worsened when New Jersey approved casinos there, Pollock said. Elected officials took strong corrective measures including creating state oversight agencies and incentives to develop hotels and nongaming attractions, he said.

Today, Atlantic City's image has been transformed from 'The Original Bay of Pigs,' a sobriquet by Theodore H. White from Atlantic City's 1964 Democratic National Convention, to a city with 16,000 hotel rooms, 45,000 gaming industry jobs and $5 billion in annual gaming industry revenue.

'It should have taken place a lot earlier, but it didn't,' Pollock said. 'New Jersey had to figure out the right formula.'

Reporter Ted Jackovics can be reached at (813) 259-7817 or [email protected].

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