Question of the Day October 6, 2015
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Q:Are there legal casinos in Alaska and Florida? We are thinking of retiring, and though extremely different, those are our top two choices.
A:Those certainly are two completely disparate choices for where to retire and if gambling's a top entertainment priority, you’ll find the pickings in Alaska pretty lean: seven tribal smoke shops and bingo halls, which mostly offer pull tabs and traditional bingo. The closest you’ll get to casino gambling is Metlakatla Indian Community Bingo, which has 80 electronic bingo machines. The tribe is able to offer these to its patrons because federally recognized Native American tribes don’t need state approval to deploy Class II (electronic bingo) machines – as was recently reaffirmed in a court case in Alabama. It's also perfectly legal to own a slot machine to play in your own home, and one of any age, as opposed to in some other states, where stricter regulations -- or outright bans -- apply.
By contrast, Florida has too many casino venues to enumerate here but, for the most part, they offer Vegas-style (or Class III) gambling. If you want to play blackjack, craps, and roulette, the Seminole Tribe’s chain of casinos currently has exclusive rights to those games, although negotiations with the State of Florida to renew that compact are currently stalled. Still, the Seminoles have the two flagship properties in Florida – Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood and Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa. Between them, they boast 5,700 slots, 212 table games, and 76 poker tables.
The Seminoles also have four other casinos, none of them Hard Rock-branded. (The tribe owns Hard Rock International through an offshore corporation.) The Seminoles’ tribal rival is Miccosukee Resort & Gaming Center, in Miami, which has 2,000 slots but no table games. Private-sector casino owners can only operate, at present, in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the only two to approve casino gambling (to the chagrin of then-Gov. Jeb Bush) and offer only slots and poker, and only at race tracks or jai alai frontons. These include Gulfstream Park (820 slots) and Isle Casino & Racing Pompano Park (1,500 slots).
While casino gambling in Florida has not been a bust for private-sector operators, it has been far from the bonanza that was expected a decade ago. In recent years, major casino operators – mostly Las Vegas Sands and Genting Group – have tried a different way of cracking the nut. Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson grandiosely proposed that the state give him exclusivity to develop five megaresorts around the state. When that idea didn’t fly, he proposed dividing Florida into zones of exclusivity, wherein no resort developer could operate within 75 miles of another. (Existing casino operators would be grandfathered, of course.)
Meanwhile, Genting impetuously paid $236 million for the old Miami Herald site in mid-2011 and has been stuck with the real estate as one Legislature after another fails to approve casino megaresorts, in Miami or anywhere else. All that exists of Genting’s Resorts vastly ballyhooed World Miami is a website. The most recent development on the casino-expansion from Adeleson's Sands Corps declaration that it was shutting down its lobbying operations and giving up on Florida in favor of Georgia.
Be that as it may, should you retire to the southern part of Florida – or somewhere near a Seminole reservation – you certainly won’t be at a loss for casino-gambling opportunities.