Planned Atlanta hotel latest venture by hotel/casino company run by Seminole Tribe of Florida

By David Pendered

The new Hard Rock Hotel announced for downtown Atlanta is the latest venture for a parent company owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which a story on forbes.com described as, “tribal pioneers in the casino and gaming business.”

Hard Rock Hotel, Tenerife

This rendering shows the planned Hard Rock Hotel on the Spanish island of Tenerife. It demonstrates the company’s interest in wearing its brand. This hotel is to offer 624 rooms, compared to the 220 rooms in the planned hotel in Atlanta. Credit: hardrockhotels.com

The Seminole Tribe was the first Indian tribe to open high stakes bingo halls, in Florida in 1979, according to the company’s website. In 2004, the tribe opened the first two Hard Rock Hotels and Casinos, in Florida.

The Seminole Tribe bought Hard Rock International in a $965 million cash deal announced in December 2006. The deal closed in March 2007, according to Hard Rock’s website.

The tribe has aggressively expanded its business model. According to a story reported on nbcnews.com:

  • “After selling tax-free tobacco products, the tribe opened a bingo hall in 1979 in Hollywood. It survived legal challenges from the state over the right to be in the gambling business, which led to other casinos on reservations in Florida and opened the door for tribal gaming across the nation.”

This corporate history suggests that a seasoned advocate for casino-style gambling is about to plant a flag in the heart of Atlanta’s convention and tourism district.

The 220-room hotel is slated to open in spring, 2018 on a site along Centennial Olympic Park Drive, facing the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, future home of the Atlanta Falcons.

Kasim Reed

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed spoke of the hotel’s expected economic impact.

“The new Hard Rock Hotel in Castleberry Hill will offer a new, best-in-class option for the millions of people visiting Atlanta each year,” Reed said in a statement. “In addition to serving tourists and visitors, this new hotel will serve as a powerful economic anchor, bringing new jobs and further investment to our downtown corridor and stadium neighborhoods.”

The tribal gambling business is now a $25 billion industry that operates from more than 350 tribal casinos in 28 states, according to a regulatory update posted on indiangaming.com. The industry has skyrocketed from its infancy as high stakes bingo and card games. The growth was made possible by the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case styled, California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, which recognized the sovereign rights of tribes to use gambling for the purpose of raising funds for the tribe.

Congress responded to Cabazon by passing the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988. This law enables states, including Georgia, to regulate tribal gaming.

Indian gaming states

Georgia is one of the few states that do not have tribal gambling, according to this map by Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Credit: brittanica.com

As Steven Andrew Light, then an associate professor at the University of North Dakota, wrote in the update that appears on indiangaming.com:

  • “IGRA expanded the kinds of games tribes could operate to include casino-style games, but gave states more power to regulate those games. The heart of the compromise was IGRA’s requirement that in order to conduct Class III or casino-style gaming, the tribe first must enter into a compact with the state. This compact requirement created a role for state regulation after Cabazon, as Congress gave back to the states some authority over Indian gaming.”

Hard Rock’s Marco Roca had only good things to say about Atlanta in statements released by the city and Hard Rock. Roca serves as executive vice president of global hotel development at Hard Rock International. Roca works with the Hotel and Casino Development Team.

“Atlanta has become a preferred destination among travelers and the city’s widespread appeal makes it an ideal destination for Hard Rock’s global fan base,” Roca said. “We look forward to showcasing our world-class brand and bringing the Hard Rock Hotels experience to this thriving modern city.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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