by Steve Bourie Learn more about the author read more »
June 22, 2008 will forever be remembered as one of the most historic days in Florida’s gambling history.
No, I’m not talking about the fact that it was my birthday (it really was!). Rather, it was the day that the Seminole Tribe of Florida introduced the first legalized game of blackjack in the state.
The star-studded event took place at their Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, which is located just south of Fort Lauderdale.
The Seminole Hard Rock was a hotbed of national notoriety a few years back when Anna Nicole Smith was found dead in her room at the hotel, but the resort was always the most popular gambling venue in south Florida ever since it opened in May, 2004.
The sprawling property includes: a AAA Four Diamond-rated 500-room hotel; 16 restaurants and lounges; a 145,000-square-foot casino with more than 2,500 slots; and a separate 12,00-square-foot poker room. Other amenities include a shopping complex with 23 retail shops and 16 nightclubs, plus a 5,500-seat indoor arena.
In late 2007 the Tribe signed a compact with Florida Governor Charlie Crist allowing them the exclusive right to offer blackjack, as well as baccarat and some other card-based games, at all seven of their casinos in return for payments of approximately $100 million each year to the state.
The first hand was scheduled to be dealt at 5:30 p.m., but due to the festivities surrounding the event, it was a little after 6 p.m. when the cards were finally dealt.
Carmen Electra and Seminole Tribal dignitaries played the first hand of Blackjack
ever dealt at the Seminole Hard Rock (she’s the one without a hat!)
Former Baywatch babe, Carmen Electra, was the main celebrity chosen to be dealt the first hand, but there was certainly no shortage of famous people at the event from all walks of life.
Famed boxing announcer Michael Buffer was on hand to bellow “let’s get ready to gamble!” and also to introduce the local and nationally known celebs, such as: Heather Graham, Lorraine Bracco, Frank Vincent, Alonzo Mourning, Bernie Kosar, Rob Patterson of Korn, Dwayne Wade, Howard Schnellenberger, mixed martial arts fighter Kimbo Slice, and many others.
Michael Buffer announcing the first hand of
Blackjack with ‘Let’s get ready to gamble!’
Behind the scenes, there was also a glamorous private party held in one of the ballrooms for Tribal members, the media, other dignitaries and invited guests.
One of the dancers at the private party was just “hanging out”
In all, there were 71 tables with 55 devoted to Blackjack, six to Three Card Poker, three to Pai Gow Poker, three to Let It Ride, two to Baccarat and two to mini-Baccarat.
Sopranos actor Frank Vincent at one of the blackjack tables
When the first blackjack hand was dealt most of the seats were occupied by invited guests and there were only a few open seats for the public. Those seats were soon filled and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house, despite a $25 minimum bet requirement at every table, including the novelty poker games.
About 20 tables had continuous shuffling machines, while others had eight-deck shoe games and there was one high-limit pit that offered four six-deck shoe games for those willing to make $100 minimum bets.
Sopranos actress Lorraine Bracco awaits the dealing of the first hand of blackjack
Blackjack rules were basically the same as in Atlantic City: dealer stands on soft 17, split pairs up to three times and double down on any two cards. The casino’s advantage against a player using perfect basic strategy was .44% with an eight-deck shoe and .42% with a six-deck shoe.
I didn’t play any blackjack myself, instead my wife and I headed back to the party to enjoy the lavish festivities. We both agreed that they sure knew how to throw a party, but who could blame them for being so extravagant- it was my birthday!
American Casino Guide Author Steve Bourie celebrating
his birthday with a bevy of “blackjack babes”
As a follow-up, we returned to the Seminole Hard Rock a week later on a Saturday around 8 p.m. to see how the crowded the tables were and if the minimums had changed.
All of the novelty poker games had $15 minimums and we did find four blackjack tables offering a $15 minimum. Other than that, most were $25 with a few at $50 and $100, plus one at $200 and one at $500.
Needless to say, there were no seats available at the $15 tables, but there were usually one or two seats up for grabs at the $25 tables.
It was obvious that the introduction of blackjack was a huge success, but the following week the validity of the compact which legalized the games was brought into question.
On July 3 the State Supreme Court, ruling on a lawsuit which challenged the validity of the tribal/state compact, said that Governor Crist did not have the authorization to enter into a compact for banked card games with the Seminoles without the approval of the state legislature.
Attorneys for the state and the Seminoles are still trying to figure out what all of this means and how they can resolve the issue. In the meantime, the games are still going strong with big crowds at all times and we’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out in the future.