Hollywood in ‘emergency mode’ over new gaming deal that could cost the town millions

·4 min read

A controversial new gaming deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida has Hollywood scrambling to safeguard its stake at the table over the next 30 years — a stake worth tens of millions.

Mayor Josh Levy was one of several Hollywood officials shocked to learn Davie would get a dramatically bigger cut at Hollywood’s expense from the state-revenue sharing deal with the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

“We’re now in emergency mode,” Levy said Sunday. “This was a surprise. And a very disproportionate one at that.”

State legislators are expected to debate all the details in a special session starting Monday.

Under the current proposal, the state would collect at least $2.5 billion in the first five years alone, with about $75 million going to cities and counties affected by tribal casinos.

Hollywood would see its share of the money drop from 55% to 35%; and Davie would see its share increase from 10% to 30%.

Those new percentages have plenty of people in Hollywood scratching their heads, including the mayor.

Levy says he and Hollywood Police Chief Chris O’Brien plan to be in Tallahassee on Monday to fight for a bigger portion of the money.

“Eighty percent of the reservation is surrounded by the city of Hollywood,” Levy said. “Hollywood provides way more support to the tribe when it comes to police, fire, water and sewer. The reservation is called the Hollywood reservation for a reason — because it’s in Hollywood.”

Davie Councilwoman Susan Starkey says the new deal would finally give her town a fair allocation of gaming proceeds.

“It’s not about greed,” Starkey said. “We’re just asking for fairness. Over the past several years we’ve been trying to get our fair share based on the data.”

Starkey says Davie’s police and firefighters respond to a high number of accidents on nearby roads and highways, including Interstate 595, State Road 84, Stirling Road, Griffin Road and U.S. Highway 441.

“A lot of those calls are related to the Hard Rock traffic,” Starkey said. “We reviewed the data for tickets, accidents and calls for service and found that Davie was only getting 10 percent and yet we had the lion’s share of all the calls for service. Our data is based on people coming and going [to the Hard Rock].”

Once that data is shared with Hollywood, Starkey thinks more people will understand the percentage breakdown.

Starkey says she’s not at all surprised by the pushback.

“I wasn’t expecting a fight,” Starkey said. “I was expecting them to stand their ground. Everyone understands that. But I would hope they’d understand it if they see the data. We want the state legislators to look at the data and come up with a fair formula. We want to make sure we get our fair share. We’re not asking for more than that. Everyone should get their fair share.”

The new agreement would allow the Seminole tribe to build three more casinos on the Hollywood reservation. That means the millions from those casinos are at stake as well, Levy said.

In an email to Hollywood civic leaders, Hollywood City Manager Wazir Ishmael argued Hollywood’s share should be increasing based on the potential new impacts, not going down.

“The potential revenue loss to the city of Hollywood will be in the millions,” Ishmael said. “Once the news broke, Hollywood staff, along with our contracted state lobbyists … began working feverishly to strategize a plan of action to counter this proposal.”

Hollywood surrounds the Seminole Reservation on the east, south and most of the west side for a total of 4 miles, city spokeswoman Raelin Storey said. In contrast, the town of Davie shares its border with the reservation on the north and a portion of the west side for a total of 1 mile.

“There are 19 Hollywood local roadways that lead to the commercial and residential areas of Seminole Hollywood Reservation and 16 Seminole Hollywood Reservation local roadways lead from the Reservation to the City of Hollywood roadway network,” Storey said.

Hollywood Fire-Rescue is the primary first responder for fire-related calls and secondary responder for emergency medical calls within the reservation, Storey said.

Over the past three years, Hollywood fire-rescue crews responded to an average of more than 150 calls per year, Storey said.

“A review of run cards for this same period shows no primary or secondary responses to the Seminole Hollywood Reservation by the town of Davie,” Storey said.

The total number of traffic accidents near the reservation handled by Hollywood remains high and there is no indication, based on the data, that these numbers will be reduced, Storey added. In addition, she said, Hollywood police have investigated several crimes related to the casino, including follow-home robberies, burglaries and thefts.

“We’re trying to work with Davie,” Storey said. “And we’re also trying to make sure Hollywood is covered for the services we provide. Hollywood has been receiving the largest revenue share and we feel that is appropriate.”

Susannah Bryan can be reached at sbryan@sunsentinel.com or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan