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Nancy Smith

Want More Florida Casino Insight? Ask North Florida Players

February 13, 2018 - 6:30pm

However the Legislature decides to reshape Florida's gaming landscape between now and the end of March, one thing is certain.

Mississippi wins.

So does the Seminole Tribe.

Another year with no chance of a sizable Florida casino anywhere north of Tampa means the Magnolia State gets to keep its Florida customer base, now estimated at nearly 20 percent of its annual revenue. And annual revenue, by the way, hit $1.19 billion in 2016 (the most recent figures available).

It represents a 34 percent increase and the third year in a row revenue has trended up in the 12 coastal casinos between Biloxi and Bay St. Louis.

Meanwhile, with or without craps and roulette, the Tribe corners the affluent adult market in the Sunshine State's population and tourist centers, in Hollywood and Tampa. It does this year, it will next year and probably many years after that, no matter what is decided this session.

It always struck me as strange why no North Florida lawmaker, no fiscal hawk in the Legislature during the last eight years, fought for a destination casino in the Panhandle. Maybe it's the conservative nature of the region. Maybe most residents reject gambling on moral grounds. 

I once asked the late Republican Sen. Durell Peaden -- for 24 years a respected physician in Crestview -- why he couldn't support a set number of casinos in Florida, including one in the Panhandle to capture the money flowing out of our state and into Mississippi. 

He shook his head and clicked his tongue. "A casino? Heck, they don't even sell alcohol in Washington County," he told me. "If I stumped for a casino, I wouldn't even survive the primary. They'd run me out of town."

But North Floridians do gamble, folks. And mostly they drive to Mississippi to do it. They're coming from Pensacola, Tallahassee, Milton, Destin, DeFuniak Springs and all points far-flung Florida. I know because I'm so fascinated, I actually take the time to count the Sunshine State license plates in the parking garage.

Why Biloxi and not Tampa?

I ask them that. I talk to Floridians every chance I get at the blackjack table. About lots of things going on back home, but especially it's an exchange of gaming talk.

Strange thing is, few Floridians ever speak ill of the  90,000-square-foot Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa. In fact, they're in awe of the place -- the sheer size of it, the "gaming experience" feel they get when they walk through the door, the number of "whales" pulling out money clips and thumbing through hundred-dollar bills.

Here's what they tell me:

  • They're in Biloxi and not Tampa because they're "low rollers;" they don't fit in at the big, glitzy Hard Rock.
    Beau Rivage, Biloxi
    Beau Rivage, Biloxi
  • They don't want to pay $600 for a room when they can get a water-view room with balcony at the Beau Rivage-Biloxi for less than $300 -- and usually much less than that -- on a busy Saturday night.
  • You just need more money to walk in the door in Tampa. The lowest minimum-bet card table, if you can find a seat at it, is at least twice and usually three times as expensive as a minimum bet in Biloxi. Freebees abound. The food, the shows, the drinks, all of it: Affordable in the Magnolia State.
  • The slots are looser in Mississippi. "Way looser," because the Seminole Tribe self-regulates. Mississippi has a gaming commission that does that and operates in the sunshine.

Not that any of this is of consequence to the gaming discussion under way in the Legislature today. It's just that I like to ask players -- these players in particular -- why they're prepared to drive three, five, sometimes eight hours to Mississippi casinos instead of heading south to one of the Florida Hard Rocks. If I'd talked to Hard Rock Tampa regulars, I'm sure I would have heard something completely different. 

But what I discovered from Floridians in Mississippi is simple: The Hard Rock Tampa has the higher flyers and the big-buck tourists. Maybe they don't need these North Florida players. But I'm thinking the State of Florida should want their money to stay at home.


Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith


Responsible gambling is adult recreation. I go from South Florida to the Mississippi casinos because the are clean, safe, fun, and you can actually win money there. I have never encountered drugs, prostitution or grifters.

I agree completely. I have never had a bad experience in Biloxi, which is more than I can say for life at the Hard Rock in Tampa or the casino in Immokolee.

Responsible gambling is adult recreation. I go to the casinos in Mississippi because they are clean, fun and you actually have a chance to win money. Have never encountered drugs, prostitution, or grifters.

Bunch of SFla Yankees the ones that benefit. Not us. We got liquor crammed down our throats under the banner of "it will bring jobs to the area". Horse manure. What it brought was a couple self contained red dot Indian families. We didn't want it and it has done nothing for us but bring problems. Man buys a half pint of cheap gin - three times a day - you can be pretty sure he is going to drink it right now. We need outside agitator help we will ask for it.

You would win THAT bet !!! (Keep gambling in SOUTH Florida,...Hispanics are "suckers" for gambling !)

I worked at the Tampa casino. It's high time the Seminoles had some compitition! They are ripping off the people in Florida.

Maybe people in the Panhandle don't want the drugs, prostitution and grifters that come with casinos. And they sure don't have the roads to handle more visitors. I went from Gulf Co to P'cola last summer - took 3 hours from Panama City to Destin.

I'll wager that you're right !

Ah yes, just more good old GOP family values from Nancy Smith . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PATHETIC

Long time no hear from, Frank. I bet Nancy was beginning to think you don't love her anymore.

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