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Seminole Hard Rock Marks 10th Anniversary

The state has opened negotiations to renew its gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe amid the 10th anniversary of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino opening in Tampa.

But it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the Seminoles even had a Tampa reservation.

Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, James Billie, said 144 Indians helped him establish the Tampa reservation where the Seminole Hard Rock Casino now sits.

“Of course they’ve been gone for a couple hundred, maybe 150 years,” Billie told the audience at the Hard Rock’s 10th anniversary celebration. ”They were buried under the cement over there in the center of Tampa. When I needed help, they came out and helped us and here we are. I never dreamed it would look like this:  one of the best brands in the world, Hard Rock.”

He was referring to the remains of 144 Indians and 102 non-Indians found buried on land the city of Tampa was developing in 1980. The Seminole Tribe deemed the land a sacred burial site. So, the city bought 8.5 acres at I-4 and Orient Road for a land swap.

The Seminoles built thatched huts, chickees, on the Orient Road land. They sold tax-free cigarettes and started a bingo hall. It wasn’t too long before the site grew and developed into the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in 2004.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
Seminole Billie Walker and his daughter were part of the opening ceremony at the 10th anniversary celebration for the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

The 10th anniversary celebration opened with a half-dozen Seminoles in native dress, chanting and doing a circular walk in front of the podium.  Billie Walker carried a 6-foot alligator on his shoulders. Alligators are a symbol of prosperity to the Seminoles.

The Seminole Tribe has prospered with the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa.

Seminole Gaming CEO James Allen said the hotel runs at 98 percent capacity and the casino, with 5,800 gaming spots, is the fourth largest in the U.S.

The Seminole Tribe gaming compact with the state is a 20 year agreement. It was ratified just 4 years ago, but the part that allows the tribe to run blackjack and other table games expires in August 2015.

Allen, who also serves as chairman of Hard Rock International, declined to speculate if additional competition might affect the Tribe's four casinos in Florida.

“When you think about the phone devices that people can amuse themselves for countless hours, who knows where brick and mortar casinos will be 10 or 20 years from now?” Allen said. “But the one thing about the Tribe, they've obviously been here for hundreds of years. So we feel pretty confident that that will be the case in the future also.”