Hurricane Irma, which is being deemed the most powerful hurricane ever recorded outside of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, is expected to hit the Florida coast this weekend, and if it does, the Cat 5 storm could have a severely destructive impact on the Sunshine State’s casino industry.
And while the horrors of Texas’ Hurricane Harvey are still fresh in Americans’ minds, along with relief efforts, Irma looks like it may make Harvey seem almost minor compared to its potential for devastation. Weather experts are predicting that as far away as 200 miles from the eye of the storm, major implications will still be felt, ranging from massive rainfall and the accompanying flooding, insanely intense winds, and the possibility of tsunami-like coastal activity.
The Weather Channel’s hurricane expert Bryan Norcross has warned Floridians to get out, tweeting that the ” … winds are wider than Florida … You won’t need a direct hit to get … winds & storm surge[s] on both coasts.”
What It Could Mean for Florida’s Gaming Industry
No casinos in Puerto Rico or Florida have yet publicly discussed if they intend to cease operations as the storm approaches.
In Florida, casino gaming is operated exclusively by the Seminoles through the Native American tribe’s Hard Rock brand. Several greyhound dog racing as well as horse tracks and card rooms offer Class II gaming and parimutuel betting, meaning not only are operations likely to be impacted, but the animals themselves will be in danger.
Throughout Harvey’s impact, animal shelters and Texas ranchers have been stymied by how to transport the state’s enormous farm and domestic animal populations, not to mention wildlife. Florida’s issues in this regard can only be more challenging, and dog racetrack owners have not been known to be the most compassionate animal lovers in the best of times, frequently leaving dogs to die once past their racing years.
With Hurricane Harvey barely a week old, as well the disruption and destruction caused to the southeastern US by last year’s Hurricane Matthew, Florida’s Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Tuesday.
“In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared,” Scott said in a statement.
Scott said President Trump had “offered the full resources of the federal government as Floridians prepare for Hurricane Irma.”
The state may have escaped the worst of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, but it still left 12 people dead, a million homes without power, and caused an estimated $2.75 billion worth of damage. But with the anticipated wind speeds of 175 miles per hour (the approximate force of a jet airplane at takeoff), Irma has the potential to be more powerful and deadlier still.
Puerto Rico Braces for the Worst
Irma could hit Florida on Sunday, but first it must make its way through the Caribbean, likely affecting the northeastern Leeward Islands and the British and US Virgin Islands, before possibly reaching Puerto Rico tomorrow.
Many of the island’s once-thriving casinos are located inside iconic hotels, but a decade-long recession has forced several to close in recent years. Meanwhile, expanding casino sectors in the US have made Puerto Rico less of an important tourist destination for Americans hungry to gamble.
While Harvey caused little disruption to the gaming industry because of Texas’ gaming policies, Irma is likely to heavily impact the tourism and casino industries of the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Puerto Rico, and Florida, particularly as flights are grounded and properties shuttered for safety. That’s not to mention actual destruction to casinos themselves, the effect on employees’ homes and livelihoods, and the long-term issues of rebuilding.
According to CNN, in Puerto Rico on Monday there were reports of long lines outside of supply stores as people rushed to stock up on food and drinking water, as well as plywood, batteries, and power generators. The unincorporated US territory’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard.