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Tribe's plan leaves casino foes in a Hard Rock place

By ROBERT TRIGAUX, Times Business Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2002

Two empire-building businesses -- one foreign, one native -- signaled Thursday they are partnered to expand aggressively near Tampa and elsewhere in Florida.

Two empire-building businesses -- one foreign, one native -- signaled Thursday they are partnered to expand aggressively near Tampa and elsewhere in Florida.

Hard Rock Cafe International said it completed the sale of $315-million in bonds to help finance two new Hard Rock Hotel and Casino resorts to be developed on the Seminole Tribe of Florida reservation land in Tampa and Hollywood in southeast Florida.

The Seminoles are using their special tribal status to push a successful and lucrative gambling venture on their properties within the state. Hard Rock Cafe, which has survived and prospered in a theme-restaurant industry littered with bankrupt competitors, is owned by the Rank Group PLC in Britain.

The new Hard Rock Hotel and Casino resort will replace the Seminoles' existing gaming facilities off Orient Road in Hillsborough County. The Tampa project includes 90,000 square feet of gaming space with 1,500 slot machines and 50 gaming tables, plus a 250-room hotel and 10 restaurants.

The Tampa and Hollywood projects are being developed through a licensing agreement between Hard Rock Cafe International, the Seminoles and the Cordish Co. of Baltimore, a prominent developer and a frequent collaborator in Hard Rock Cafe deals. Both resorts are expected to open in 2004.

What's in it for the Rank Group? Its Hard Rock subsidiary gets an annual license fee amounting to 3 percent of net gaming revenues or $3-million (whichever is greater), plus 3 percent of hotel room revenues. It also gets the profits from a new cafe it's building in the Hollywood complex.

Like most gambling operations, the bucks are big. In the first six months of 2001, the Seminoles' existing gaming facilities in Tampa and Hollywood generated net gaming revenues of $247-million. And that's not money from Las Vegas-style roulette and blackjack (currently prohibited in Florida), but cash from small-stakes poker, high-stakes bingo and electronic slot machines.

Under Gov. Jeb Bush, the state government is fighting efforts to expand gambling on tribal lands. But Hard Rock chief Pete Beaudrault is already on the record: Don't bet against the Seminoles eventually winning a full-gambling license.

Stay tuned.

* * *

Not so long ago -- about when dinosaurs ruled the planet -- Wall Street analysts used a simple and effective system to tout or pan stocks. Sell. Hold. Buy.

Then Wall Street got greedy. To preserve their jobs (if not their credibility), analysts obscured their rating systems with all sorts of euphemisms. Hold. Accumulate. Recommend. Market outperformer.

It got murkier when such firms as Merrill Lynch added ratings such as1/1 or 3/2 (whatever that means). Now comes a report (citing unnamed sources) in Thursday's New York Times that Merrill may scrap its ratings gibberish and return to the good ol' sell-hold-buy concept.

Others are taking a different path. Two months ago, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter endorsed a new rating vocabulary. Instead of using the word sell, the firm's analysts now say "underweight" -- as if dud-performing companies somehow lack a proper diet.

For all those analysts who can't seem to utter the word sell, here are some rating alternatives.

For Wall Street analysts fond of food: Spoiled (for sell); Thawed (for hold); and Ripe (for buy).

For analysts big on cars: Yugo (sell); Chevy (hold); and Lexus (buy).

For analysts keen on geography: Afghanistan (sell); Argentina (hold); and Tahiti (buy).

Or for analysts hooked on baseball: Rays (sell); Cleveland (hold); and Yankees (buy).

Short takes

SO MANY CHOICES, SO FEW AWARDS: It must have been a tough choice, but California's database billionaire, Larry Ellison, is this year's winner of the annual Big Brother Award. Ellison, head of Oracle Corp., was chosen as the most notorious American corporate violator of personal privacy by leading advocacy groups. Why pick on Larry? Because he's so busy after Sept. 11 pushing U.S. adoption of a centralized (no doubt Oracle-run) government database that could be used as a national identification card. Privacy International, a London group of privacy experts and human rights groups, presented the award in San Francisco last month. Last year's winner? The city of Tampa, for using a new facial-recognition surveillance system (unbeknownst to fans) during the Super Bowl. . . .

JUST HELPIN' FLORIDIANS: Special thanks goes to Rep. Jeff Kottkamp, R-Cape Coral, for pushing through new state legislation that says a shopping cart is not dangerous and that a grocery store can be sued only if there is proof of negligence. It seems 81-year-old Etta McIntosh sued Publix Super Markets after she was pushed into a shelf in a Port Charlotte Publix when a driver of a powered cart hit her shopping cart in late 1999. The case is pending. Oh, did we mention that Kottkamp happens to be the lawyer defending Publix in that case?

AND THEN THERE'S: Close to $20,000 was raised at a mid-April fundraiser for Boys & Girls Clubs computers held by a coalition of Tampa Bay area tech groups at St. Petersburg's Renaissance Vinoy hotel. If only the evening's speakers could have been heard over the din of the apparently disinterested digerati. . . . Ex-sales assistant Carmela Heinl sued Robert W. Baird & Co. in Tampa this spring after, she says, the firm treated her like an hourly employee, but didn't pay her for overtime hours. Baird denies wrongdoing. . . . The ties that bind Tampa Bay and Orlando grow tighter. At the Tampa Bay Partnership's upcoming fourth annual regional leadership conference (May 20-21 at the Saddlebrook Resort), day two is devoted to "super-regionalism." And we were happy just to find Tampa and St. Petersburg occasionally talking to each other.

-- Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8405.

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