Sea Isle, N.J. — James Fenimore Cooper’s historical novel "The Last of
the Mohicans" concludes with Tamenund (1628-98), the tribal leader of an
Indian clan in the Delaware Valley, lamenting the pain of old age and the
near-extinction of his people.
"Why should Tamenund stay?" he asks. "The pale-faces are the masters of
the earth, and the time of the red-man has not yet come again."
Well, there’s big news up the beach in Atlantic City that would bring a
big smile to the old chief’s face.
In a development that’s sure to move large piles of cash from the wallets
of the pale-faces to the pockets of the red-men, the Seminole Tribe of
Florida has applied for permits to build a huge Hard Rock casino on the
boardwalk. It’s a $275 million project, planned to be developed in stages, ending with 850 rooms.
Add a thousand Crazy Horse slot machines with pretty cocktail waitresses
serving free fire water, and the pale-faces won’t know what hit ’em.
The Seminole Tribe bought the Hard Rock’s international business in 2006,
paying $965 million for its casinos (except the Vegas location), hotels,
restaurants and what’s said to be the world’s largest inventory of rock
memorabilia — a collection that includes a fancy pair of Elton John’s
high-heels, an old Bob Dylan guitar and one of Madonna’s slightly worn bustiers.
With only some 3,300 members in the Seminole Tribe, the $965 million price
tag for the Hard Rock business comes out to $292,424 per tribal member or
$1.17 million for a family of four.
When the acquisition of Hard Rock’s international business was announced,
Seminole Vice Chairman Max Osceola said: "Our ancestors sold Manhattan for
trinkets. Today, with the acquisition of Hard Rock Cafe, we’re going to buy
Manhattan back one hamburger at a time."
Several months later, Mr. Osceola was accused of charging more than
$85,000 in "personal expenses" to his tribe-issued American Express credit card.
"Most of the charges," reported The Miami Herald, "were for jewelry bought
at the Platinum Jewelry Exchange in Hollywood, along with the purchase of
Sound Advice stereo equipment, home security services and a Harley-Davidson
Clearly, there’s now more going on economically at the reservation than
selling beads by the side of the road or charging 50 cents to watch a tribe
member wrestle an alligator.
The switch in Seminole fortunes from poverty to riches began when the
Seminoles became the first U.S. tribe to offer high-stakes gambling when it
opened an unregulated bingo hall in 1979 in Hollywood, Fla.
The money came in fast. "Eighteen years after his small tribe pioneered
Indian gambling in America, Seminole Chairman James Billie can cruise over
his territory in a $9 million jet and see his tribe awash in money," reported
the St. Petersburg Times. The jet once belonged to Philippine President
With tribal sovereignty in place that gives the Seminoles the right to
self-government, there’s no public accounting required regarding how much
money each tribal member receives from the tribe’s gambling operations, its
citrus business or its 25-million-packs-a-year cigarette business. But current
estimates are around $200,000 annually for each family of four.
From people across the country seeking to cash in via group victimhood
membership, the tribe receives dozens of requests daily from folks trying to
determine if they belong on any Seminole family tree. It’s like the scratch
Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics and the B. Kenneth
Simon professor of free enterprise at Robert Morris University in
Ralph R. Reiland
E-mail: [email protected]