SouthFlorida.com
Make every weekend epic with our free Weekender newsletter. Sign up today!

Seminole Tribe opens casino hotel in Immokalee

South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Casino-goers can now get a hotel room at the secluded Seminole casino in Immokalee

There's a secluded spot for high rollers, upscale hotel rooms and entertainment acts to give blackjack players a diversion when they've stared at the cards too long.

Basically, everything you'd need to forget you're in Immokalee.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida christened a hotel Thursday at their expanding enterprise in Immokalee, an area of fewer than 30,000 people in Collier County, about 30 minutes from Fort Myers and Naples.

The hotel is just 99 rooms, so it's not going to compete with, say, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, which has 500 rooms and plans to add 1,000 more.

If you haven't been to, or have barely heard of, Immokalee, that's OK. The area is best known for its tomato fields and as a reservation for a few hundred Seminoles. A two-lane road is the only way in and out.

The tribe opened the casino in 1994 and added blackjack and other table games five years ago as part of an agreement with the state. It has since expanded to include 38 tables and about 1,300 slot machines — similar to what most South Florida racetrack casinos offer.

"The Immokalee casino is part of a brand that employs more than 12,000 people in our casino operations, and we continue to upgrade and reinvest in our facilities and our employees," CEO James Allen said. "We think that's a benefit not only to the tribe but to all of Florida, and it has a positive impact on the state."

The tribe's agreement to offer blackjack and other table games expires July 21, and Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, has filed a bill that could bring two large hotel-resort casinos to South Florida.

Immokalee is not exactly a battleground, though. Allen said the casino serves only a southwest Florida market, with most patrons from Naples, Marco Island and Fort Myers, and that two-lane road means the casino is active during the day, but less so at night.

"I think the hotel is a great addition to the new amenities so those residents don't just have to drive out for a few hours. They can spend the night," Allen said. "It's an amenity we've been lacking in the past.

"We think the rooms would compete with anything in Las Vegas or Atlantic City," Allen said. "A lot of people have the exposure to a lot of gambling markets, so we have to make sure they not only meet, but exceed any expectations."

The casino is about 20 miles from Alligator Alley and is the economic engine of the area, Seminoles' spokesman Gary Bitner said.

"It's like the company store in a company town," Bitner said. "It's really the economic force."

The casino also was used as part of an anti-gambling salvo fired by John Sowinski, president of NoCasinos.org, who argued that casinos don't help the surrounding businesses..

"Pull up Google maps and look around the Seminole casinos. Nothing. It's pretty much an economic wasteland. There's a pawn shop, a gas station and a pizza shop," he said during a debate in February. "Then look at any major tourist destination in Orlando. If it's such a great thing, then Immokalee would not be Immokalee."

State records show the casino makes about $150 million per year, a little less than the Seminoles' Hollywood Classic, which started as a bingo hall in 1979 and is frequented mainly by Broward County locals. But it's still more than any racetrack casino garners, even the Isle Casino and Racing in Pompano Park, the most successful in the state.

Nsortal@SouthFlorida.com

Copyright © 2017, South Florida
79°