At peak hours, bumper-to-bumper traffic piles up outside the new Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood all the way to the Florida Turnpike.
Dan Calvig, a 20-year-old from Coral Gables has been in the middle of it, knowing that once he makes it through, he still may have to wait another three hours for a chance to get to a poker table. But, he said, the payoff of playing is worth it.
Eddie Fernandez said he hit the jackpot when he snagged a job as a juggler entertaining children at the casino's new Paradise retail and entertainment center. It meant the 32-year-old could stay near his Hollywood home, rather than work on a cruise ship.
Across the street though, diner owner J.J. Felipe wonders how he is going to compete with the free food the casino offers at lunchtime.
While no one knows for certain what will happen if voters approve Las Vegas-style slots for Broward pari-mutuels on March 8, the experiences of Calvig, Fernandez and Felipe offer a clue.
There is certain to be flashy new entertainment, a tourism bonanza, new jobs and a mini-construction boom, but there is also the specter of more traffic jams, increased costs for local police, fire and paramedics, and while some suppliers may profit, other local business owners will get wiped out.
If the slots come, the most affected neighborhoods will be those surrounding the new slot casinos at Dania Jai Alai in Dania Beach, Gulfstream Park and the Hollywood Greyhound Track in Hallandale and Pompano Park Racing in Pompano Beach. A separate referendum in Miami-Dade County will ask voters to allow Las Vegas-style slot machines at Calder Race Course, Miami Jai Alai and Flagler Greyhound Track.
If passed, those neighborhoods can expect seven new sprawling casinos that rival the Hard Rock, with 1,700 to 2,500 slot machines, according to estimates from the state Legislature. That would rival the Hard Rock's 2,000 machines and most of the casinos in Las Vegas, such as the newly remodeled Bally's Las Vegas, with almost 1,500 machines, and Mandalay Bay with 2,200.
HARD ROCK HOLLYWOOD
Construction of the 100-acre Hard Rock complex poured more than $400 million into the economy, created 3,000 permanent jobs and buys millions of dollars worth of goods and services in Broward, says Hard Rock spokesman Gary Bitner. It hosts thousands of visitors daily, who stay in the 500-room hotel, shop in the 300,000 square-foot retail complex and gamble.
"It's a positive for business. What they have done to bring people to our area is terrific. These people spend money," said Patricia Asseff, a realtor and past president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
But Felipe, owner of J. J. Diner near Griffin Road and State Road 7, across the street from the Hard Rock, said his business has been seriously damaged since the opening of the casino.
"They are giving away free lunches, free drinks. At 11 o'clock lunch, the people are over there," said Felipe, who said his business has been down $3,000 a week since the casino opened in May 2004. Felipe said he knew of at least four restaurants within miles of the Hard Rock that have gone out of business even though traffic is up.
Traffic along State Road 7 has risen at least 15 percent since the casino opened, from roughly 21,000 to 25,000 cars daily, state Department of Transportation numbers show.
The traffic may be worse than indicated by the state figures, which were last calculated midweek in July 2004, before the December opening of the Paradise retail and entertainment section with its rock shows, nightclubs and restaurants. The counts also were done for a 24-hour period and do not reflect that much of the increased traffic is squeezed into a few nighttime peak hours for the casino.
Paramedic calls along State Road 7 have gone from one a month to almost two a day, says Joe Rohan, the interim Hollywood Fire Chief.
COCONUT CREEK CHANGES
A smaller Indian casino already operating in Coconut Creek has had no discernable effect on the city, but that might change soon, according to City Manager John Kelly.
If voters agree to allow horse and dog tracks to have Las Vegas style slots, the county's Indian casinos will also be entitled to bring in the machines.
To stay competitive at Coconut Creek, the Seminoles have announced plans to more than triple the size of the casino, from 22,000 to 70,000 square feet, and add a restaurant, hotel, spa and 700-seat auditorium.
Seeing how Hollywood has been impacted and fearing traffic could overwhelm their road system and their 400-acre Main Street urban downtown project just getting underway nearby, Coconut Creek officials are worried. But unlike Hollywood, which had little say in the construction, operation and impact of the Hard Rock expansion because the project was built on reservation land, Coconut Creek will have a stronger hand.
In Coconut Creek everything except the actual casino will be built outside the Seminoles' five acres of federally governed property. "That gives us some leverage," said Sheila Rose, the city's development services director.
As a result, developers will have to pay toward the impact on roads and pay property taxes.
In Coconut Creek, Rose is currently negotiating with the Seminoles exactly what the city will require in return for allowing construction of the new casino and hotel. "We've asked for a plan on how we can be expected to handle the extra traffic. We'll want to know how much they are willing to pay on a whole group of impact issues," said Commissioner Jim Waldman, a lawyer who handled the negotiations six years ago.
In 1999 before the 500-machine casino was built, the tribe needed water and sewer from the city. In return, Waldman and Kelly got the Seminoles to pay the city $1 million a year, which has since grown to $1.5 million. The tribe also agreed to raise the payments substantially if the casino is expanded.
The city used the income from the Seminoles to borrow money and buy about 30 acres of land neighboring the casino as a catalyst for the Main Street project.
County officials faced the same question when bargaining with gambling interests in December and January.
Broward County and the three cities that will house the potential new casinos have an agreement with the gambling interests to offset any additional costs to the community. They are expected to pay $12.8 million a year based on county estimates of 4,000 machines operating and grossing $100,000 each annually, said Pete Corwin, assistant to the county administrator.
Corwin said he had no idea whether that will be enough money and he warned commissioners in a memo before they scheduled the March 8 vote that "cost estimates are soft and very difficult to project."
"We will certainly have more traffic and an impact on police, fire, social services. Frankly, we don't have firm numbers on what it will be," Corwin said.
The money the pari-mutuels agreed to pay will go only to the county government and the cities where the casinos will be located -- Dania Beach, Hallandale and Pompano Beach. That has led Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti of Hollywood, whose city is across the street from the Hollywood Greyhound Track and near Dania Jai Alai and Gulfstream Park, to oppose the March 8 referendum.
"We're getting all the negatives like traffic and none of the money to deal with it," Guilianti said. "That's not right."
Another unknown: how the slots will affect traffic at key exits along I-95, such as the Atlantic Avenue exit leading to the Pompano track.
One of the least understood implications will be gambling's effect on crime.
Perhaps the most exhaustive study of gambling impacts used data from every county in the nation from 1977 to 1996. "Casinos, Crime & Community Cost" found significant increases in crime could be attributed to gambling in counties with casinos. Eventually about 8 percent of the crime in those counties comes from gamblers drawn into the community by casinos, the study found.
David Mustard, a University of Georgia economics professor and one of the co-authors of the study, said the benefits of casinos in terms of added jobs and other economic development are obvious.
"Less obvious are the costs in terms of additional pathological gambling, lost wages, money diverted from other businesses to gambling and crime."
Buddy Nevins can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4571.