In 2007, Florida’s most prominent Native American Tribe acquired a larger company for it to become their overarching corporate brand.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida purchased Hard Rock International. As a result, the assets of the famous music-themed brand became the property of the Seminoles.
That included over 100 cafes, hotels casinos and concert venues all over the world. Unfortunately for the tribe, two of the Hard Rock Cafes they acquired were in Russia. One in Moscow and another in St. Petersburg.
Fast forward 15 years later and the geopolitical landscape is drastically different. The U.S.-Russian relations are at a Cold War-like low point, mostly due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Now, those two businesses in the vast Eurasian country are causing problems for the Seminole Tribe back at home. Their Russian properties are stifling the Seminoles’ effort at acquiring a New York casino license, according to a report from the New York Post.
NY expansion plans are under scrutiny
The Seminoles initially made their mark on the gambling world through their successful Florida casinos. However, after buying the Hard Rock brand, they expanded their businesses outside of the Sunshine State.
In addition to Florida, the tribe owns and operates casinos and hotels in 10 other states and 19 other countries. But they have their sights set on New York. According to reports, the tribe has plans to bid on a casino license for a facility next to Citi Field, home of MLB’s New York Mets.
The casino would need approval from the state’s gaming commission. But New York Gov. Kathy Hochul won’t let that happen as long as they own those two Russian Hard Rock Cafes.
Last March, Hochul enacted an executive order barring state agencies from “contracting with businesses conducting business in Russia.” She cited New York’s large Ukrainian population as a driving force behind the move.
New York “will not permit its activities as a participant in the marketplace to support an unjustified war by Russia and the killing of innocent Ukrainians,” read the order. Furthermore, New York City Mayor Eric Adams supports Hochul’s order and her wish for government pension funds to be divested away from Russia.
Seminoles deny any ties to two Russian Hard Rocks
The Seminole Tribe responded with a statement noting that both properties are independently owned. Furthermore, they said the Moscow location is closed and the St. Petersburg facility is just days away from the same fate.
A spokesperson for the tribe told the New York Post:
“Since the beginning of the war, Hard Rock International joined the millions of people around the world condemning the unprovoked attack on Ukraine and its people. At that time, Hard Rock vowed to suspend all future investment and development in Russia, donate all profits from the two franchise locations in Russia to humanitarian causes in Ukraine.”
Hard Rock and other operators hoping to conduct gambling business in New York City have yet to submit proposals. Applicants will compete for three New York City area gaming licenses. The Seminole Tribe also owns the Hard Rock Hotel in Times Square. But the hotel does not have gaming facilities.
Donations to Hochul
Hochul’s move currently leaves the tribe in bad shape in New York. But the tribe may have sealed their own fate. Political donations from the Seminole Tribe to New York politicians include at least $50,000 to her 2022 re-election campaign before the executive order went into effect. Overall, the tribe and people connected to it contributed more than $100,000 to Hochul.
Casino Development Hopes with the Shinnecock Indian Nation
This is not the first time the Seminole Tribe has attempted to enter the New York casino market. The Long Island-based Shinnecock Indian Nation announced in 2020 that the Seminoles would be a partner in plans to build a slots-only casino in the Hamptons. The project has yet to receive approval from the state, and Shinnecock does not have a gaming compact with New York.
Currently, three regional tribes are the only Native American groups that operate full-scale casinos in the state: the Oneida Indian Nation, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, and the Seneca Nation of Indians. Their properties are all located in upstate New York.