Marcellus Osceola Jr., tribal council chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, smiled wide as he stood next to two-time Super Bowl champion football coach Jimmy Johnson.
With Johnson watching, Osceola threw the first roll of the dice at a new craps table Dec. 11 at the Seminole Casino Hotel in Immokalee, marking a historic moment for the Tribe, for the casino and for Immokalee.
Two craps tables and three roulette tables opened for business for the first time. So did 15 sports betting kiosks following what had been a five-year legal battle. The in-house retail sports gambling kiosks supplement the Hard Rock Bet mobile phone sports betting app that launched across Florida last week.
“This will actually bring more people in the town, because a lot of people are excited about roulette and craps and the chance to do sports betting on the mobile app or to come to the brick-and-mortar building,” Osceola said.
The state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe agreed to a 30-year compact in 2021 that sports bets could be made in the state with the bets being handled by internet servers on tribal lands. The Tribe is expected to pay the state about $20 billion over the course of the compact, including $2.5 billion over the first five years.
The compact is being challenged in two separate lawsuits—one before the U.S. Supreme Court and another before the Florida Supreme Court—by gambling company West Flagler Associates. The lawsuits challenge the addition of sports betting to the Tribe’s gaming offerings based on Amendment 3, which requires 60% to approve any expansion of voting in the state, and whether mobile sports wagers from bettors around the state can be considered taking place on tribal land.
The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t decided whether it will hear the case.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Tribe submitted a brief to the Florida Supreme Court arguing the Legislature “has authority to deem the initiation of online sports wagering to occur in one location or another as a matter of law” and the compact between the state and Tribe is an exception to Amendment 3. West Flager has an opportunity to reply to the brief but hasn’t done so yet.
“We never shy away from a fight,” Holly Tiger, vice chair of the Seminole Tribe, said during the ceremony. “This isn’t the end. This is just the end of the beginning. Have fun. Be responsible. And have a good time.”
Johnson was on hand promoting the casino among an array of celebrities, including singer Ashanti, Pro Football Hall of Fame running back and Immokalee native Edgerrin James, retired mixed martial arts fighter Tito Ortiz and others.
“It’s an exciting day,” said Jim Allen, the CEO of Seminole Casinos. He said his casino career began 44 years ago in Atlantic City, New Jersey, just as the Seminole Tribe began launching its casinos in Florida.
The adjacent Seminole Hotel has 99 rooms and is at 98% capacity every day of the year, General Manager Tony Alves said.
Although there are no plans for expansion, doing so doesn’t seem so far-fetched given the additional business the new games could bring, Allen said.
“I think even without the craps and roulette, the facility was doing really well,” Allen said. “We’re certainly always looking at opportunities to expand in the future. Certainly, adding craps and roulette is an added benefit.”
An Elvis impersonator flanked by two Las Vegas-style showgirls greeted gamblers as they entered the casino. As the ceremony continued, multiple speakers stressed that Las Vegas no longer has to be the destination for those seeking roulette, craps and sports wagering.
“We’ll continue to make history as we move forward,” Osceola said. “This is the first time in, I would say, maybe 80 years that craps and roulette are operating. What we’d like to take advantage of is something new and legal for the state of Florida.”