Tampa casino, largest in state, getting larger

Aug 31, 2011

The following article was published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on August 31, 2011:

Tampa casino, largest in the state, getting larger

By Steve Huettel

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has started a $75 million expansion of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Tampa that will make it one of the largest casinos in the country.

When construction is compete in April, the casino floor will stretch to 220,000 square feet. Only two Indian casinos — Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun, both in Connecticut — are larger, said Joe Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group in Linwood, N.J.

That extra space will provide room for 750 more slot machines for a total of about 5,000, said John Fontana, president of the casino and hotel. The Hard Rock will operate 105 gaming tables, a dozen more than it does now.

All the extra gamblers will need places to park. The project includes a new five-story garage with 1,350 spaces — a 27 percent addition to the current 5,000 — to handle peak traffic on weekends and the spring tourist season.

The parking structure on Hillsborough Avenue will rise from a valet parking lot and stormwater retention area.

Turner Construction will hire 500 workers as the work ramps up, Fontana said. The Tampa Hard Rock expects to add 430 employees to its current payroll of about 3,000.

In 2009, Seminole Tribe officials pledged to spend nearly $800 million on expanding the casino and hotel as the Florida Legislature debated giving the tribe exclusive rights to offer “banked” card games, such as blackjack, where gamblers play against the house.

Their plans included a hotel up to 22 stories high with as many as 1,000 rooms, new meeting space and a music hall seating 1,500 to 2,000 fans.

All that remains part of the master plan, Fontana said.

“The plan has always been in phases,” he said. “This is the next step toward that.”

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