GAME CHANGER

Lux­ury ho­tel ex­pands vis­i­tor choices at Semi­nole Casino Immokalee

RSWLiving - - Departments - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT Craig Gar­rett is Group Edi­tor-in-Chief for TOTI Me­dia.

Ewa Lau­rance is hap­pily gush­ing about her stay at the re­cently opened Semi­nole Casino Ho­tel. She is at the Immokalee casino for a bil­liards match to be broad­cast on ESPN. One of the game’s great play­ers, she is pack­ing a pool cue along­side a cir­cle of ad­mir­ers and ESPN pro­duc­ers who have just filmed her in an in­struc­tional bil­liards pro­gram. The match that in­cludes other pro­fes­sion­als and the in­struc­tional film was slot­ted for broad­cast this past De­cem­ber. Lau­rance had played against Jeanette “Black Widow” Lee for the $25,000 win­ner’s pot. Other cham­pion play­ers and trick­shot pro­fes­sion­als par­tic­i­pated in the three-day event.

Lodged at the new Semi­nole Casino Ho­tel for the bil­liards event, Lau­rance is boast­ing to her ad­mir­ers about the ho­tel’s deluxe room in which she stayed, say­ing, “My hus­band and I are like, se­ri­ously? Ev­ery­one [bil­liards play­ers] is com­ment­ing this is first class. I guess I didn’t know what to ex­pect. I can’t say I’m sur­prised … but I am. It’s a very nice ho­tel.”

The Semi­nole Casino ex­pan­sion that in­cludes the 99-room ho­tel is part of a re­newal pack­age of some $40 mil­lion, says James Gib­son, the casino’s mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor. The makeover in­cludes the 800-seat Semi­nole Cen­ter en­ter­tain­ment venue—― con­verted into an in­ti­mate fo­rum for the bil­liards tour­na­ment and trick-shot event―—the Lucky Mi Noo­dle House, a re­mod­eled Par­adise High Limit Room, a new poker room and the ad­di­tion of nearly 6,000 square feet of casino floor space with fresh floor­ing for some 1,300 slots and gaming ta­bles. Ex­pan­sion also meant more than 100 new jobs, Gib­son notes. The Semi­nole Casino Immokalee, he says, is about “en­hanc­ing the gaming ex­pe­ri­ence for our guests. We wanted to pro­vide that fresh Florida feel.”

The Semi­nole Casino Ho­tel, which opened last March, pro­vides the first up­scale ac­com­mo­da­tions out­side of Naples. It has 19 suites and 80 deluxe rooms on four floors. The deluxe rooms of­fer tra­di­tional ameni­ties such as wire­less, minifridges, large-screen tele­vi­sions and cof­fee mak­ers. But what’s dif­fer­ent is the feel of the rooms, which are el­e­gantly lofty in flat grays with ac­cents in sig­na­ture col­ors and pat­tern­ing of Semi­nole her­itage. El­bow room and frills de­fine the much larger suites, which tra­di­tion­ally serve higher spenders. The new ac­com­mo­da­tions are warm and wel­com­ing. The ho­tel also has a swim­ming pool with avail­able pri­vate huts, a fit­ness fa­cil­ity and busi­ness cen­ter.

Even though casino hotels are tra­di­tion­ally made avail­able to high-stakes vis­i­tors, that doesn’t mean day-cation­ers shouldn’t book a spe­cial week­end or evening at the ho­tel, Gib­son says.

I guess I didn’t know what to ex­pect. I can’t say I’m sur­prised… but I am. It’s a very nice ho­tel.” —Bil­liards cham­pion Ewa Lau­rance

He’s see­ing a sharp uptick in night stays for tick­ethold­ers for the casino’s pop­u­lar shows and con­certs, celebrity events, hol­i­days, bal­loon fes­ti­val, poker tour­neys and many other events, in­clud­ing the first Hall of Fame Chal­lenge in which Lau­rance com­peted. That event was packed with bil­liards en­thu­si­asts. “We’re re­ceiv­ing great guest feed­back,” Gib­son says of the ren­o­va­tions. “They’re re­ally lik­ing the prod­uct.”

The Semi­noles of Florida call them­selves the “Un­con­quered Peo­ple,” de­scen­dants of just 300 Na­tive Amer­i­cans. The tribe can trace its roots back 12,000 years, ex­pand­ing road­side tourist stands, groves and cat­tle busi­nesses in the 1950s into bingo and to­bacco shops in the 1970s. Gaming was the next step with the open­ing in 1979 of the Semi­nole Casino Hol­ly­wood, be­gin­ning what has be­come the most suc­cess­ful Na­tive Amer­i­can gaming op­er­a­tion in the coun­try. Thou­sands of work­ers are em­ployed at the tribe’s six Florida casi­nos and other en­ter­prises, in­clud­ing cat­tle ranch­ing, cit­rus pro­duc­tion and sports man­age­ment. To­day more than 2,000 res­i­dents live on six reser­va­tions in Hol­ly­wood, Big Cy­press, Brighton, Immokalee, Fort Pierce and Tampa.

Gregg Hovey owns Bil­liards In­ter­na­tional, the Cal­i­for­nia com­pany pro­duc­ing the Hall of Fame Chal­lenge at Semi­nole Casino Immokalee, the Tour­na­ment of Cham­pi­ons ( men and women) and the Trick Shot Magic ex­hi­bi­tion shown on ESPN in late De­cem­ber. He was de­lighted with his ho­tel stay, he says, as was Linda John­son, a poker cham­pion re­cently play­ing a World Poker Tour tour­na­ment at Semi­nole Casino Immokalee. “I re­ally didn’t want to leave,” the poker leg­end said of her Semi­nole Casino Ho­tel stay. “And ev­ery­thing in the casino is beau­ti­ful and spa­cious. It just feels like fam­ily. I to­tally en­joyed it.”

Casino ex­pan­sion in­cludes the Lucky Mi Noo­dle House restau­rant (bot­tom right), a 99-room ho­tel and up­grades of $40 mil­lion.

Ewa Lau­rance played the first Hall of Fame Chal­lenge at Semi­nole Casino Immokalee. The event was set for broad­cast this past De­cem­ber on ESPN.

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