Seminole Tribe remains unconquered when it comes to battling state on moneymaking deals

Seminole Tribe remains unconquered when it comes to battling state on moneymaking deals
Seminole Tribe remains unconquered when it comes to battling state on moneymaking deals

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The “Unconquered” statue at Florida State University speaks loudly.

The Seminoles are the only tribe to be unconquered by the U.S. Army, and the tribe remains unconquered when it comes to battling the state on a host of moneymaking deals that have preceded the gambling deal being considered by lawmakers this week.

In 1977, the Seminole Tribe opened drive-thru cigarette shops, not charging or collecting the state’s then 23 cent-a-pack tax. It raised millions but began a contentious battle with the governor and Legislature.

“I think they should pay the tax like everyone else,” said Sen. John Vogt in 1980.

But the tribe had its defenders during a floor debate that year in the Senate.

“They’ve taken this money and they’ve built schools,” said Sen. Tom McPherson.

“This is something that’s very important for the survival of the people,” said Sen. Arnett Girardeau.

Then in 1979, the tribe began high-stakes bingo halls. A federal lawsuit to stop the moneymaker failed in court and on appeal. The Seminole Tribe remained unconquered after that lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to get involved.

Fast forward to 2010 when the tribe negotiated an exclusive 25-year deal for slots, poker, blackjack and more.

“A good day for everybody, in our neighborhood as well,” said Chairman of the Tribal Council Mitchell Cypress in February 2010.

After a federal court found the state violated the deal, which gave the tribe the right to stop paying the state, it did. The $350 million a year payments stopped in 2019.

When signing the new deal, both sides said, it’s good for everyone.

“And this only further establishes the health and education of our people,” said Seminole Tribal Chief Marcellus W. Osceola Jr.

“Having this relationship from the tribe is really going to be beneficial to the state of Florida,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis.

If approved, the new gaming deal is sure to be challenged by anti-gambling forces, but if history is a guide, the Seminole Tribe will again be a formidable opponent.

The Seminole Tribe continued to sell untaxed cigarettes until 2009, but by then, it was already making much more of slots and other games.

The new compact is expected to produce more than $6 billion for the state by the end of the decade.