Florida Casino Takes in Hurricane Ian Evacuees, Changes Policies for Families

Posted on: October 3, 2022, 12:01h. 

Last updated on: October 5, 2022, 05:31h.

A Florida casino on the eastern side of the Sunshine State played a critical role in the evacuation of the state’s Gulf Coast during Hurricane Ian.

Florida casino Hurricane Ian gambling
Sanibel Island resident Ping Hu with her daughters at the Miccosukee Casino & Resort outside of Miami. The Florida casino served as a Hurricane Ian evacuation center for Southwest Florida residents. (Image: USA Today)

The Miccosukee Casino & Resort is located in Miami-Dade County in the City of West Miami. The tribal casino is owned and operated by the Miccosukee Tribe, one of six federally recognized tribes in Florida.

Hurricane Ian was a violent weather system that made landfall near Fort Myers Beach as a Category 4 hurricane on September 28. The hurricane, the fifth-strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in the contiguous United States, caused catastrophic damage across much of Southwest Florida, from Naples up north past Fort Myers along the Gulf Coast.

The Miccosukee Casino & Resort, which offers more than 2,000 slot machines and electronic table games, welcomed many Hurricane Ian evacuees during last week’s storm. Along with the property’s more than 250 hotel guestrooms, many evacuees brought their RVs and overnight campers to the casino parking lot.

Age Requirement Lifted

The Miccosukee Casino & Resort is typically open only to people aged 18 and over. But as millions of Southwest Floridians sought safe ground amid Ian, the tribal casino did away with the age restriction.

Given the extreme impact of Hurricane Ian on the state of Florida and our surrounding counties, Miccosukee Casino & Resort is extending welcome to guests of all ages to our resort and facility until further notice,” a tribal statement explained.

Many Southwest Florida residents traveled east across Interstate 75, aka “Alligator Alley,” and US Route 41, aka the Tamiami Trail. Both highways traverse the Big Cyprus National Preserve, a 730,000-acre swamp that borders the Everglades National Park.

Upon exiting the preserve via US 41, travelers came upon the Miccosukee Casino & Resort before any other business. The resort has ample parking, the paved lots measuring a combined 17 acres — offering plenty of space for evacuees.

Sanibel Island resident Ping Hu and her two children, ages 4 and 7, were among the evacuees who found shelter at the tribal casino.

“The most important thing is we’re safe,” Hu told USA Today.

Hu added that the casino has been most accommodating to her two young girls, who she says have felt like they’re on a cruise with the indoor pool and nonstop, around-the-clock activities that a casino offers.

‘Mommy, we’re going to stay here forever, right?'” Hu said her daughters asked.

The casino has welcomed older guests, too.

“I feel very blessed having found this refuge,” said Marco Island resident Kathleen Tuttle, 72. Hurricane Ian was her first hurricane evacuation since her husband died in 2019.

Seminole Casino Reopens

The Seminole Tribe of Florida maintains the exclusive rights to operate slot machines across Florida outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The tribe also has a monopoly on house-banked table games.

The Seminoles temporarily shuttered the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa during Ian but have since reopened the facility after the hurricane turned south and spared much of Tampa.

All six Seminole casinos in Florida are in operation less than a week after Hurricane Ian’s destruction.