With less than a week before a trial over their blackjack games begins, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has removed James E. Billie as tribal chairman.
Billie was ousted Wednesday in a 4-0 vote of the tribe’s governing council, Law 360 reported, citing “various issues with policies and procedures of the chairman’s office.”
Gary Bitner, spokesman for the tribe, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Sun-Sentinel reported a special election will be held in the next month to elect a new chairman for the Hollywood-based tribe, “which operates a business empire that began with the sale of tax-free cigarettes in the 1970s and expanded to include hotels, citrus groves, tourist attractions, and Seminole Hard Rock casinos throughout South Florida.”
A federal trial is set to begin Monday in Tallahassee in a dispute over whether the Seminoles’ casinos can continue to have blackjack tables, including at its casinos located in Tampa and in South Florida.
The U.S. Supreme Court already dealt a financial blow to the tribe, declining to consider a lower-court decision that it has to pay tax on its electric and other utility bills.
But the outcome of next week’s trial could determine the future of the tribe’s finances. Bitner has said card games generate just under 20 percent of the tribe’s total gambling revenue, which is up to $1 billion yearly just at the Tampa location.
A portion of a five-year gambling deal with the state expired last year. It granted the tribe exclusive rights to blackjack in return for revenue sharing with the state.
Gov. Rick Scott in December reached a new $3 billion deal with the tribe that would let them keep blackjack and add table games, such as craps and roulette.
But the deal was never considered by the Florida Legislature as various gambling interests, including the state’s pari-mutuels, complained they had been shorted in the deal.
The Sun-Sentinel story, which has a recap of Billie’s history and various tenures as head of the tribe, is here.