Talk of the bay: Tampa casino runs the table for Seminoles

By Times staff
Published February 7, 2008

Cha-ching! That's the sound coming out of the Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino after its $120-million expansion. The state's largest casino rang up year-to-year profit growth of 2.4 percent for the last three months of 2007, according to a report by Fitch Ratings. Meanwhile, profits at the tribe's South Florida casinos fell, in part because of competition from Broward race tracks with slot machines. The Tampa casino generated a whopping 47.3 percent of the total profits from the seven Seminole casinos for the quarter, Fitch stated. The tribe is getting ready to sell $105-million in taxable bonds. Proceeds will go toward payments to the state under the gambling compact that allows slots and blackjack, capital needs and "soft costs" tied to upcoming expansion projects. No specifics, but Tampa casino officials have been lobbying for a second hotel with 750 rooms - three times the size of the current one.

Hartford Group dropping policies
Among the many details that emerged from the Florida Senate's insurance hearings this week was this gem: the Hartford Group has stopped writing new homeowner policies in the state and plans to drop about a third of its homeowner book, or about 27,000 policyholders, starting in August. The move will leave Hartford primarily with policies it has sold through AARP. "We have not been profitable in Florida for an extended period of time," Hartford vice president Tom Johnston told lawmakers. Asked if the company has found another carrier for those who will be canceled, Johnston said no.

Cornerstone deal called a 'mistake'
Barry Diller, chairman of IAC/InterActiveCorp, conceded Thursday he made a "mistake" acquiring Cornerstone Brands three years ago in hopes the catalog operator's home goods selection would complement HSN, his St. Petersburg-based TV shopping network. Diller told analysts Wednesday the connections between HSN's merchandise needs and the owner of Ballard Designs, Frontgate and Garnet Hill (for which he paid $720-million) never meshed. Once IAC spins off HSN and Cornerstone this spring, he expects HSN will overhaul or try to sell the West Chester, Ohio-based slumping catalog business outright. The spin-off hinges on the outcome of a lawsuit that goes to trail March 10 in Delaware. IAC'S biggest shareholder, John Malone's Liberty Media Corp., is trying to oust Diller.

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