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Inside Gaming: Seminoles Gain Hard Rock Rights, Battle State in Court Over Compact

Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood
  • The Seminole Tribe of Florida gains exclusive rights to the Hard Rock International brand.

  • A federal court heard arguments from the Seminoles and the state of Florida regarding a new compact.

This week's installment of Inside Gaming updates three ongoing stories involving the Seminole Tribe of Florida, including its recent acquisition of the Hard Rock International brand, the sudden vote to remove its longtime chairman, and the tribe's federal court battle with the state over a new compact.

As the week concludes, Hurricane Matthew has understandably occupied the attention of most Floridians as it makes it way up the state's eastern coast. Meanwhile as far as industry news is concerned, the previous week has been something of a whirlwind for the Seminole Tribe of Florida who have been involved in multiple stories of significance.

Early in the week the tribe announced it had purchased the remaining rights of the global Hard Rock Hotel and Casino brand. That came on the heels of the tribe's abrupt decision to remove its longtime chairman. Meanwhile the Seminoles this week battled in federal court with the state of Florida over a new compact, including the tribe's desire to keep exclusive statewide rights to offer blackjack and baccarat.

Seminoles Gain Exclusive Ownership of HRI

Last Friday came the announcement that the tribe now exclusively owns Hard Rock International Inc., a brand which had been formerly split among multiple owners for more than three decades.

In its press release, Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen noted how it had been over 35 years since HRI had one controlling ownership, calling it a "historic day for the brand... that we believe ignites the path for further expansion around the globe."

The tribe is now "exclusively entitled to develop, own, license, franchise and manage Hard Rock Casinos and Hotel-Casinos in the western U.S., including Minnesota and state[s] west of the Mississippi River, as well as in Australia, Brazil, Israel, Venezuela and Vancouver, British Columbia" the presser notes. The tribe also continues to own and operate the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas.

In an article considering "What a united Hard Rock brand means for customers," VEGASINC further quotes Allen describing benefits to be hand from the consolidation.

"It creates consistency in the guest experience and in customer service because now we can be working with all the same brand standards on a global basis," explained Allen. "It also allows us to do Hard Rock deals in territories with respect to gaming. And it enhances the revenue stream. We are now collecting revenue streams from the licensees themselves."

Chairman Ousted, No Comment from Tribe

Meanwhile, last week the Seminole Tribal Council voted 4-0 to remove James E. Billie as chairman, a role he'd served for more than 25 years in two separate stints dating back to 1979.

Gary Bitner, tribe spokesman, offered no details regarding the decision to end Billie's tenure when speaking to the Tampa Bay Times, stating the tribe "considers this an internal matter and is not going to be more specific or elaborate beyond what was said" in the announcement of his ouster.

TBT notes the ongoing battle between the tribe and Florida regarding a new compact, adding that it is unclear what effect a change in Seminole leadership might have on those negotiations.

Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida Plays Out, New Compact at Issue

Picking up that thread, lawsuits by both the state and the Seminoles were together combined into a single case, Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, that opened up on Monday in Tallahassee and continued through Wednesday.

As the Sunshine State News explains, the tribe argued that a clause in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires the state "to negotiate a new deal [with the tribe] in good faith after the expriation of the first gambling compact," a five-year agreement made in 2010.

Following the expiration of that compact at the end of July 2015, Governor Rick Scott signed a new 20-year compact with the tribe in December 2015, but the agreement required approval by both the state's House and Senate. The compact failed to get such approval, however, not making it through the latest legislative session.

Among the conflict-causing items is the tribe's wish to keep exclusive statewide rights to offer "banked card games" like blackjack and baccarat.

According to the Sun Sentinel, it appeared at the close of proceedings on Wednesday that U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle was signaling a ruling in favor of the Seminoles after "suggest[ing] state regulators had violated an existing deal with the tribe."

"If the tribe wins the lawsuit, it could lead to a new round of negotiations over gambling with the state," writes the Sentinel. The tribe could also stop making millions of dollars of payments to the state until a new deal is reached.

Judge Hinkle is expected to rule in the case in the coming weeks.

Photo: Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood.

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