HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - South Florida offers at least eight months of pleasant outdoor weather, and few casino resorts take better advantage of it than the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
About 10 minutes off I-95, just south of Fort Lauderdale, Seminole Hard Rock has made the leap from a simple local gaming parlor to a fully blossomed resort, sporting a 500-room hotel with a 5-acre tropical swimming area, and most impressive, an outdoor entertainment-and-shopping complex anchored by a lake with a fountain and light show.
"From Day One, the goal was: When we were finished building this facility, you would be able to pick it up and place it on the Las Vegas Strip or the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and it would be able to compete with anyone," says Jim Allen, the head of gaming operations for the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Allen has worked in the gaming business for more than 25 years and counts among his mentors Sol Kerzner, whose company developed the spectacular Atlantis gaming resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
One of Seminole Hard Rock's most distinctive features is its 300,000-square-foot outdoor plaza, called Seminole Paradise. It includes Italian, Mexican, Asian and seafood restaurants, some with lake views, and about 20 stores selling designer apparel, casual wear, and sports memorabilia. Bars and lounges offer entertainment ranging from dueling pianos and stand-up comedy to house music and hip-hop.
The casino's 41-table poker room is also in Seminole Paradise, and three blackjack tables are just outside the poker area.
Slots gamblers will find most of their favorites among the casino's 2,500 machines, and there are 87 card tables dealing blackjack, baccarat, and other familiar games, such as Three-Card Poker and Let it Ride. State law prohibits craps tables and roulette wheels, although there are roulette-style machines with less favorable odds than the real thing.
The casino's main entertainment venue is the 5,500-seat Hard Rock Live, which features such headliners as Denis Leary, Don Henley, and Donna Summer.
For dining, there's Council Oak, the de rigueur steakhouse; Blue Plate, a sleek diner-style restaurant with moderate prices; a food court; and, naturally, a Hard Rock Cafe. There's also poolside dining at the Beach Club.
The Hollywood Hard Rock (there's also one in Tampa) is one of three Seminole casinos in Broward County and seven in the state. In addition, three non-Indian pari-mutuel facilities in the Broward County area - a thoroughbred race track, a harness track, and a greyhound track - have slots, video poker, and live poker rooms.
The thoroughbred track is famous Gulfstream Park, which has been undergoing a makeover designed to transform the race course into a broader entertainment-and-shopping complex. The transformation remains incomplete. Gulfstream's most attractive feature is a walking ring, where the horses are paraded before each race and fans can get an up-close look at the magnificent animals. Not far from the track, the slot machines are arranged on two levels, with the bottom "casino" a crowded mix of slots, horse-race simulcasting, and poker tables.
Shuffle up and deal. The 40th World Series of Poker is scheduled to start next month at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. The event is actually a collection of 57 tournaments of various styles and buy-ins, leading up to the No-limit Texas Hold 'em World Championship, also known as the Main Event, which attracted 6,844 players last year. The big winner, Denmark's Peter Eastgate, pocketed more than $9.1 million.
Tournament action will run from May 26 through July 15. The Main Event will open July 3 and run for 13 days. When the field is reduced to the nine players who will sit at the final table, the tournament will be suspended until Nov. 7. The delayed showdown is meant to heighten the drama for the tournament's telecast on ESPN.
Among the changes this year is a big buy-in No-limit Texas Hold 'em tournament - $40,000 per player - to mark the World Series' 40th anniversary. There will also be a $1,000 buy-in event next month that could set a record for players in a non-Main Event live tournament. Most World Series tournaments require buy-ins of $2,000 or more.
Also, July 2-5, the Rio will stage a poker expo, PokerPalooza, that's touted as "part trade show, part carnival, all fun." One of the expo's most popular attractions has been the chance to meet and get autographs from the poker pros who appear on TV.
The jingle returns. Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey's first casino, is returning to its roots by reintroducing slot machines that spit out coins instead of vouchers. Coin machines, considered inefficient, have all but disappeared from modern casinos, replaced by ticket-in, ticket-out technology.
But the old-fashioned clanging of metal-on-metal has a certain visceral appeal, and the eight machines Resorts installed this month between the lobby and the 25 Hours bar and lounge have been extremely popular.
The $1 machines (maximum of three coins) have a "Boogie Nights" theme in keeping with the casino's 1970s and '80s retro nightclub of the same name. Michael Jackson, Madonna and the Bee Gees provide the musical backdrop, accompanied by an overhead light show.
Resorts is considering putting in more of the throwback one-armed bandits.
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Gaming Traveler: Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
1 Seminole Way
For more information, call 1-800-937-0010
or go to www.seminolehardrockhollywood.com
Contact Bill Ordine