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Columns

Doubling down shows ambition to be winner

Two very different yet very related bets were placed in the past week on each side of Tampa Bay that may yield defining payoffs for this region.

By Robert Trigaux, Times Business Editor
Published November 18, 2007


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Two very different yet very related bets were placed in the past week on each side of Tampa Bay that may yield defining payoffs for this region.

Bet one: Gov. Charlie Crist cut a 25-year deal giving exclusive statewide rights to the Seminole Tribe of Florida to operate casino card games now banned in the state and slot machines at seven sites, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa. In exchange, Florida gets a cut of at least $100-million in the first year but plenty more as the tribe's casino business grows.

The deal means money-strapped Florida just committed to a future in which its economy will embrace expanding casinos and whose tax coffers will depend increasingly on gambling's enormous revenues.

Bet two: Tampa Bay's Major League Baseball franchise, the newly named but still last-place Tampa Bay Rays, acknowledged it wants to escape cavernous Tropicana Field and, with public help, build a $450-million waterfront baseball stadium in downtown St. Petersburg on the site of Al Lang Field.

This deal - if it happens - is a twofer. It would cement the city's core downtown as a baseball-dominated destination. And it would replace an aging Tropicana Field with a rare 70-acre site to build fresh retail and housing - hopefully generating the kind of redevelopment momentum the Trop never could deliver to its neighborhood.

With the possible exception of Pete Rose, gambling and baseball try to stay miles apart. What these strange bedfellows share in these two Florida deals is the state's interest in investing more in large-scale entertainment.

Like it or not, gambling continues to grow as a mainstream U.S. business. In Florida, it will surely become more of the state's tourism marketing message. Visit Florida. Relax on our beaches. Enjoy our theme parks. Try your luck at our casinos.

Now there will be more than one way to get burned in Florida.

In Tampa, the Hard Rock draws anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 folks a day. A new Rays stadium - the team promises more details Nov. 28 - would draw that number of people and often more hello, parking and traffic woes to downtown St. Pete on game days.

Any well-designed stadium should be an initial magnet. But it's up to the Rays to play better ball if the franchise truly wants to attract a larger and more loyal fan base.

A Major League Baseball stadium in the heart of a city changes things. In cities like Boston and Phoenix, attending games is a very urban feeling in cities larger than St. Pete. Oh yeah, the Red Sox and even the Diamondbacks (a franchise launched the same year as the Rays) have World Series wins.

St. Petersburg mulled various futures for the precious waterfront land occupied by Al Lang, from a new park to building a new city hall there.

Welcome to Tampa Bay, where gambling and baseball aren't quite as different as you think.

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

[Last modified November 16, 2007, 22:42:09]


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