Gambling sites have friendly, fun rivalry - Wednesday 13th of May 2009

For more than a month, the Isle Casino and Racing in Pompano Beach has promoted a drawing for a Buick LaCrosse, at 7 p.m. Sunday.

For three months, rival Seminole Casino Coconut Creek has advertised a "mystery car giveaway," with details to be announced. This week those details came out. Their car giveaway just happens to be at 7 p.m. Sunday. Their car? A Lexus.

"Theyre shrewd marketers at Coconut Creek," said Isle General Manager Michael Bloom. Coconut Creek General Manager Steve Bonner says theres a "friendly, fun and interesting" competition between the casinos, which are 10 minutes apart.

"Frankly, the competition is good because everyone is exposed more to gambling as a form of entertainment," Bonner said. "But my philosophy is if youre going to be in the game, win the game."

With the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood and three other casinos to the south, the Isle and the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek compete for the same base: north Broward patrons, and the entire expanse of Palm Beach County, which lacks slots. Palm Beach residents comprise about one-third of the two casinos business, according to estimates.

The Isle, which celebrated its second anniversary this month, says the Seminoles have more marketing money because they pay few, if any, taxes, while the parimutuels pay a 50 percent slot tax and other fees. In 2007, the Seminole Tribe agreed to pay the state $200 million a year for exclusive rights to blackjack and other games. But courts voided the deal.

Coconut Creek, which has been open for nine years, aggressively attacks the Isle. They buy billboard space less than a mile from the Isle. When the Isle got a new slot game called Slingo, Coconut Creek added two Slingos a month later. They also offer much more free play than the Isle does, and offer video blackjack and video roulette (which parimutuels cant have).

Bloom counters the Isle is "cleaner," a shot at the smokiness of Coconut Creek. Broward parimutuels must be smoke-free to comply with the state clean air act; the Coconut Creek casino, on sovereign Seminole land, does not. Theres even a twist to that: Data shows smoking casinos nationwide make more money than nonsmoking casinos.

"The smoking issue certainly defines the two casinos," Bonner said. "We have some players who wont go to the Isle because they want to smoke. Meanwhile, being non-smoking protects a base of customers they have."

That includes Marion Levine of Boynton Beach, who has been coming to the Isle at least once a month since it opened.

"If they even offered me $1 million to go Coconut Creek, I wouldnt because of the smoke," she said. "You need a chest X-ray after you leave there."

But Juan Rosas of Fort Lauderdale Is your Fort Lauderdale restaurant clean? - Click Here. loves Coconut Creek, even though hes a non-smoker (he sometimes brings an inhaler). A regular player at several casinos, he says Coconut Creeks free play coupons often are for $250 and the casino hosts all know his name; the Isle gives him only $20.

"Im a loyal fan of this place," he said.

There has been speculation the Isle was trying to catch up on a larger scope: with hotel plans next to its Pompano Beach casino and harness track.

Earlier this month, Broward County Click here for restaurant inspection reports commissioners gave the Isle the right to build a 500-room hotel near the Pompano Beach casino. Seminole officials plan a 1,500-room hotel in Coconut Creek. Exact plans have not been disclosed, while the compact is being negotiated.

The Isle, part of a publicly held chain of 18 casinos, has no timetable, Bloom said.

"We really dont look at Coconut Creek; we look at the balance sheet of the Isle corporation," he said. "And if theres money to be spent to expand a property, itll be spent on whichever property in the Isle portfolio that will have the greatest return to the shareholders."

William Clark, leaving Coconut Creek after breaking even on the slots, likely speaks for gamblers everywhere.

"Where do I like best?" he asks. "Wherever I think Im going to win."

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