ndian casinos in Florida generated us$ 1.9 billion in 2008, compared with us$ 1.6 billion in 2007, according to a report released last week by Alan Meister, an economist who compiles the only comprehensive annual report on Indian gaming finances.
The Seminole tribe owns seven of the eight Indian casinos in Florida, including three in Broward. The other is run by the Miccosukee tribe in Miami-Dade County. Among the top 20 Indian casino states, Florida posted the biggest growth rate. In fact, Indian casinos grew just 1.5 % overall, while at least nine Indian casino states saw declines.
The difference for Florida: blackjack, given to the Seminoles under a 2007 agreement with Governor Charlie Crist. The state Supreme Court later voided that deal, but the blackjack games are still running. At Indian resorts, the number of table games — which include blackjack, poker and baccarat — grew from 187 in 2007 to 422 in 2008.
Meister's report featured a cover picture of Hollywood's Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino — a symbol for Florida's rising status in the Indian gambling hierarchy. The boom times for the Florida Seminoles stands in stark contrast to the rest of the nation, where Indian casinos recorded the "slowest annual growth in reported history," Meister said.
"In 2008, many casinos reported decreases in the number of visitors and spending per visit, declining revenues, layoffs, and suspensions, delays or downsizing of casino development projects," he said. "And while some segments of the gaming industry have been hurt less than others, the pain has been felt in many gaming markets across the country. The economic downturn is even taking its toll on Indian gaming, which has historically performed better than most other segments of the gaming industry."
Nationwide, Florida Indian casinos tied with Arizona for fourth in overall revenues, behind California (us$ 7.3 billion), Oklahoma (us$ 2.9 billion) and Connecticut (us$ 2.4 billion). Those top five states accounted for 61 % of total gambling revenue in 2008.
And the growth in Florida's Indian gambling revenues might be just heating up, Meister predicted. He noted that the Seminoles are planning major expansions, including a new hotel tower and music amphitheater at the Tampa Hard Rock, and an expanded casino floor and 1,500-room hotel and spa at their Coconut Creek casino.
"Looking ahead, there are a number of future gaming expansions that are likely to fuel additional Indian gaming growth in Florida," Meister wrote.
While the cash register might be ringing at Seminole resorts, in Tallahassee the tribe faces a difficult political climate — which threatens to derail the tribe's gambling juggernaut. The Legislature has refused to ratify a new gambling agreement between Crist and the tribe, which would give Indian resorts a monopoly on casino games outside Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
In fact, lawmakers asked federal authorities to intervene and shut down the Seminole blackjack games, which the Legislature says are illegal. The federal government has yet to take action.