Seminoles ask Feds
for Class III machines

Jan 23, 2007 4:12 AM

If the south Florida pari-mutuel tracks aren’t setting the world on fire with their new slots ventures, they can thank their Seminole neighbors.

Privately-owned Hollywood Greyhound Park, now called Mardi Gras, and Gulfstream Park, the property of Magna Entertainment Corp. (MECA), have opened their slots emporiums in Miami’s suburbs and will soon be joined by Isle of Capri Casinos Corp.’s (ISLE) Pompano Park.

Problem is that they are surrounded by some five major casinos operated by the Seminole Tribe. It’s true that the tracks have Class III slot machines that Las Vegas travelers have become accustomed to while the Indians still use the less-popular Class II types.

But that could end rather soon.

According to the federal law that permits Native Americans to operate casinos, they are entitled to utilize the machines and games that are being operated in the states in which they are located. When Broward County approved Class III machines, the Seminole leadership approached then Gov. Jeb Bush about revising the state gaming compact so that they could upgrade their slots floors.

Bush, an anti-gambling proponent, dodged compact talks.

So, the Seminoles used a tactic to bypass the state government and went directly to the U.S. Dept. of the Interior seeking federal approval. If granted, the Seminoles will be able to convert their casinos without having to negotiate a new compact and possibly be put into a position to share some of their revenue with the state.

In total, the Seminoles have seven casinos that generate an estimated $1.2 billion in revenue annually. Numbers like that even swamp such publicly-traded companies such as Isle of Capri, Ameristar Casinos Inc. (ASCA) and the rapidly-growing Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. (PNK).

But the Seminoles are on the move as well. They recently made a deal for just under $1 billion with the British-based Rank Holdings Plc. to acquire their Hard Rock facilities.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is hoping to halt federal intervention by re-starting talks with tribal leaders. Meanwhile, Boyd Gaming Corp. (BYD) is building a slots facility at Dania Jai-alai and Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN) is looking to convince voters in Miami-Dade County to try another vote on the slots issue.