SEMINOLE TRIBE AND THE CASINO INDUSTRY

It is approximated that the United Sates has approximately 1511 registered casinos yielding a market revenue of $71.1 billion annually[1]. This notably is a lucrative venture and that is why the number of casinos across the globe are tremendously increasing over time. This paper therefore attempt to investigate how the casinos came into existence in America by highlighting the life of the Indian tribe attributed to the Casinos.

The Indian gaming in America was born in the 1979 by the Seminole Tribe with a bingo hall at the Hollywood, Florida. However, the government did not buy this idea and therefore came up with measures to curb it before it grows and expand to other areas. This therefore gave a room for court battles pitying the government and the Seminole tribe. But before we embark on elucidating deeper on the court battle and consequently, the outcome of the suit and the progressive years, it is better off to have an in-depth analysis of the Seminole Tribe, the tribe that initiated casinos in America.

The Seminole tribe originally dwelled in the Northern Florida. They were Native Americans who upon the move by American settlers to their territories retreated to the South of Florida. The tribe which spoke Mikasuki and Creek language was formed by the coalescing of diverse tribes in the 1700s and dominated by the southern Creek who migrated from Georgia to establish a safer place to stay. The Seminoles had to defend their land and this was marked by series of wars which were collectively known as Seminole Wars. The first of the wars happened in 1817 when Andrew Jackson alongside 3,000 soldiers made an invasion on the northern Florida. Resultantly, much of the East Florida land that was controlled by the US was taken by the Seminole Tribe.[2]

The years from 1835 to 1842 were characterized by the second Seminole War. A number of its leaders resisted the forced attempt by the US to move them into reservations in Oklahoma. This culminated into a war led by Osceola, one of the leaders. This war however, was not that successful to the Seminoles as most of them had to give in and move to Oklahoma and a few of them stayed back in deep swamps of Florida. The third war on the other hand took place about thirteen years after the second war. This war, which happened in 1955 was led by Bowlegs Billy. Unfortunately, Bowlegs was forced out of Florida after his capture.[3]

The original dwelling place of the Seminoles while in North Florida was in log cabins. However, with time they were forced to relocate to the swampy lands south of Florida and thereby lived in homes of which they called chickee. These homes had thatched roofs which got support from wooden posts, had raised floors and open sides. With the raised floors and roofs, the Seminole Indians were kept dry while the open sides facilitated their coolness during hot weathers. The group was organized into clans which were extensions of the family unit. The marriage set up was that whereupon a man marries, he goes to live amongst the clan of his wife. The Seminoles encompass eight clans namely Bear, Snake, Dear, Otter, Wind, Panther, Bird and Bigtown. They also had leaders such as Abiaka who was a spiritual leader and medicine man of the Seminole Indians in the days of the second Seminole War. Osceola and Bowlegs Billy were also their great leaders.[4]

Mode of dressing varied amongst the men and women of the Seminole tribe. Men donned in long shirts accompanied with a belt. They also covered their heads with a turban. On the other hand, the women had blouses of which were short, and long skirts. Additionally, their wardrobe was characterized by strings of glass beads. The first bead is worn when they are still babies and never do they take them off. As days go by, they increase the number of the beads. The Seminoles in most cases went barefoot but at times when the weather was cold they could wear moccasins.

What Seminole Indians considered means of transport were canoes. This is because Florida had swampy areas which were their dwelling places. The cypress trees were used in the making of the canoes through hollowing the logs making dugout canoes. Notably, many of the names of rivers in Florida originated from the Seminoles. This includes Ocala which means spring, Okeechobee meaning big water, Hialeah meaning prairie and Chattahoochee that means marked stones. The Seminole women as is today, made baskets out of the palmetto leaves, sweet grass and pine needles. Today the baskets they make are sold as souvenirs. They had also some traditional practices that accompanied their lifestyles. For instance, during the spring season they Seminoles held Green Corn Dance ritual, a very important ceremony held every year. Worth noting is that this ceremony is still being held in this modern time. Additionally, there Seminoles had some other cultural practices such as alligator wrestling which gave them cultural identities and yielded worth noting cultural practices.[5]

As stated hereinabove, in the second paragraph, the advent of casinos met several challenges including court battles. The government came up with a decision to have the casinos shut down when the Seminoles started the gaming. As a result, the Seminole tribe sued the government in a legal suit referred to as Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Butterworth.[6] The Supreme Court made a final verdict in 1981 in which he affirmed their rights of operating a bingo hall. This therefore depicted the Seminoles as winners and therefore paved way for the running of casinos.

The Suprem Court in 1987, on the  California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians case made a ruling that recognized the Indian gaming industry. As such, the ruling asserted that since the Seminole Tribe was federally recognized, it had the right to run casinos outside the state jurisdiction given that the US considered the tribes were as sovereign entities and therefore the running of the casinos in that state must not be prohibited directly. This ruling also gave the Seminoles reprieve in running the casinos.[7]

The Congress, after a year, passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act which provided guidelines and rules to govern the Seminole Indian gaming. This act postulates that a tribe recognized by the federal may carry on gaming activities delimited with a solid negotiation between the state and the tribe and thereafter ratified by the Department of Interior. This act divided gaming into three classes, that is, Class I Gaming, Class II Gaming and Class II Gaming. Class I Gaming encompass the traditional gaming alongside social gaming which have minimal prizes. Notably, there is no regulation that governs it aside from the government of the tribe.

Class II Gaming highlights gambling that is played solely against opponents and not in the precincts of the house.  It gives examples of poker, bingo amongst other card games that are non-banked. Lastly, Class III Gaming touches on Casinos. It asserts that all games falling within this class, which includes slot machines, craps, blackjack in addition to all those that do not fall under class I and Class II, must have compact with the federal state.[8]

The major casino to be opened by the Seminoles was in 1981 thanks to the efforts of Jim Billie. He is attributed with the growth of the gaming industry which is the backbone of the tribe’s economic growth. It is documented that prior to 1979, the Seminole Tribe of Florida used to realize an annual budget that was less than $2million. As at then, 90% of the total funds came from the government. Interestingly, these figures have tremendously changed and short up as the tribe’s annual budget surpasses $200 million thanks to the casinos which provide over 95% of the funds. The gaming industry alongside related entertainment facilities have provided revenue to the Seminoles. Be it that it may, there are fears that the Seminoles culture is being eroded with the advent of this practice.[9]

In as much as the gaming industry has overseen many of the Seminoles rich, denoted by the flashy lifestyles and flashy vehicles they drive, critics argue out that the gaming industry has eroded their social relations alongside their cultural specificity. In the American set up, casinos is absolutely opposite of traditions. They have been criticized of sacrificing their rich culture and integrity for the love of money leveraging on the growth of the economy. Their craft production is no longer practiced as much as it was over three decades ago. Instead, they have resorted to gambling in casinos and operating cigarettes’ shops besides living lavish lifestyles. The alligator wrestling is no longer receiving the attention and value it used to. It has diminished in importance as a result of chasing after money and wealth. As such, their culture is drastically dwindling owing to their focus on making money and elevating their financial status.[10]

In conclusion, as highlighted hereinabove, the Seminole Tribe of Florida are the starters of the casino gaming industry cushioned by the tribal sovereignty in America alongside other acts that include the Indian Gaming Act. The paper has made efforts to bring out who the Seminoles are, their origin, culture, and lifestyle among other important events in their calendar such as the Seminole War. In addition, the paper has illuminated how they started the casinos and the impact that these casinos have had on their lives. The paper has noted that the Seminole Indians have started losing out their culture owing to the chase of money and better lifestyles from casinos and sale of cigarettes.

 

 

 

[1] Tucci, Courtney. “Topic: Casino Industry

[2] Porter, Kenneth Wiggins. “Negroes and the Seminole War, 1835-1842.” The Journal of Southern History 30

[3] Porter. Negroes and the Seminole War

[4] MacCauley, Clay. The Seminole Indians of Florida. University Press of Florida, 2000.

 

[5] MacCauley. The Seminole Indians of Florida

[6] Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Butterworth, 658 F.2d 310 (5th Cir. 1981).

[7] California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202, 107 S. Ct. 1083, 94 L. Ed. 2d 244 (1987).

 

[8] McCulloch, Anne Merline. “The politics of Indian gaming: Tribe/state relations and American federalism.” Publius: The Journal of Federalism 24, no. 3 (1994): 99-111.

 

[9] Cattelino, Jessica R. “Casino roots: the cultural production of twentieth-century Seminole economic development.” Native pathways: American Indian culture and economic development in the twentieth century (2004): 66-90

[10] Cattelino. Casino roots.

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