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No Reservations

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  • | 10:02 p.m. April 19, 2012
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When the gates swung open at the Florida State Fairgrounds April 16, a hiring fair began at the Seminole Hard Rock Resort & Casino.

The casino plans to add 400 employees to keep pace with the $75 million expansion that adds about 800 slot machines and 12 table games in 32,000 additional square feet.

Renovations of the pool area and a new garage with more than 1,300 parking spaces are also included.

One peculiar thing is missing from the resort's renovation: hotel rooms.

Especially considering the hotel generally runs at 100% occupancy, according to John Fontana, president of the Hard Rock in Tampa.

However, running a casino entails greasing the wheels of high rollers with complimentary rooms. In an email to the Business Review, Gary Bitner, spokesman for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, says most nights half of the resort's 250 rooms are “comped.”

That means the revenue hotel rooms generate at the resort is also halved. Although additional hotel rooms are part of the resort's long-range plan, it decided to move forward with other renovations first.

Says Bitner: “It's important to keep in mind that the primary business of the Seminole Hard Rock is gaming.”

Focusing on that portion of the business drove the resort to build a new five-story parking garage. Instead of attracting overnight visitors, the casino aims to lure gamers for day visits.

It's a strategy that carries its own risks given that real gas prices are the highest they've been since 1981. But to hedge its bets, Hard Rock has deals with other area hoteliers, such as the Fairfield Inn and Comfort Suites, to target tourists nearby who may want to gamble. The Hard Rock routes a pipeline of people to its slots by providing shuttle services to other hotels — hotels get sleepy players at night, and the casino gets eager players during the day.

In another move to cater to day gamers, Fontana noticed that guests without reservations at the casino's restaurants were stuck without a plan for lunch. “In season we have to cap reservations,” Fontana says. “We don't want to have to do that.” So the casino added 300 seats to its dining options and a new restaurant.

Although the casino mines people in most demographics, according to Fontana, it will continue to keep its focus away from families.

Despite the challenges ahead from legislators pushing to legalize casino-style gambling — and open the market to competition — and a shaky economy, Fontana says the next big expansion could happen at the Seminole Casino in Immokalee. Says Fontana: “The Seminole Tribe is very bullish on Southwest Florida.”

This story has been updated to reflect that additional hotel rooms are part of the hotel's long-range expansion plan, according to Gary Bitner, Seminole Tribe of Florida spokesman. Bitner said: “They are not being built now because of the availability and cost of capital and the need for expansion dollars at the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, where a $150 million expansion was recently completed.” The spelling of Bitner's name has also been corrected.


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