Seminoles’ Empire Grows Beyond Gambling

Looking ahead to a future where gambling revenue may not be as secure, the Seminole Tribe of Florida is expanding its operations to cattle, seafood, beverages, wine, construction and banking. Its Seminole Pride brand is in growing in popularity. Still, gambling provides more than 90 percent of the tribe's $2 billion in annual revenue.

Gambling provides more than 90 percent of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s billion in annual revenue. The income brings each of the tribe’s 4,000 members an estimated dividend of tens of thousands of dollars per year. But now tribal leaders are seeking to expand their operations beyond gambling.

Seminole Tribe Inc. board member M. Steve Osceola said the tribe may not be able to count on gambling in the future. “We don’t know what the environment is going to be like in the years ahead,” he said. As a result, board member Larry Howard noted, the tribe aims “to create new revenues that one day will produce more than gaming.”

Currently the tribe, based in Hollywood, has interests in cattle, seafood, beverages, wine, oil, e-cigarettes, construction and banking. From these varied ventures, tribal members received dividend checks of $250 this year. Osceola said, “It’s a start.” He explained until last year the tribe’s gaming division had been giving subsidies of $1-$2 million to its other ventures. However, he said, “We stopped that. We wanted to be entrepreneurs.”

Today the Seminoles’ Brighton reservation is the fifth-largest cow-calf operation in the U.S. with 13,000 head of cattle in 2013. The tribe also has a 1,000-acre sugar cane operation there, plus vegetable fields and citrus groves. Its Seminole Pride brand extends to beef, seafood, citrus, energy drinks, juice and spring water. Last year the tribe laid the groundwork for a construction company, took over a fuel distribution company and began partnering with a vineyard in Tuscany to produce Intermezzo wine.

The tribe also recently hired former president and chief executive officer of Boca Raton-based First Southern Bank, Lynn Wines, as part of their plan to purchase a bank.

Law professor Bob Jarvis of Nova Southeastern University said the formerly poverty stricken Seminoles are one of the most successful Native American tribes. Their first successful venture was to sell tax-free cigarettes in the 1970s, then they expanded into bingo operations. “They are a well-managed operation. Like any successful business, they look for opportunities,” Jarvis said.

While the Seminoles continue to have a monopoly on gambling in Florida, others are keeping a close watch on All Aboard Florida, high-speed rail that will transport travelers between Orlando International Airport and downtown Miami, with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in between. Many in the tourism industry and others agree with the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority that the railroad “is a front for gambling,” since the Miami terminal will be located less than two miles from the former Miami Herald Building, which Genting purchased in 2011 for $420 million in anticipation of opening a destination casino there.

In a statement, All Aboard Florida said, “All Aboard Florida is not associated or involved with any gambling initiatives nor plan any involvement in the future. Our passenger service is a viable business model that will serve millions of passengers each year and is in no way dependent upon any outside activity or venue.”

All Aboard Florida is owned by Florida East Coast Industries, has been owned by Fortress Investment Group since 2007. Fortress has significant gambling interests, including Penn National Gaming. It’s also the parent company of a company that once employed Adam Hollingsworth, Governor Rick Scott’s chief of staff. Hollingsworth vetted Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad, who last year announced a 50-year lease with All Aboard Florida.

Mike Cantone, director of CountyWatch, a bi-partisan political watchdog group for transparency and responsibility in local government, said, “There should be more concern locally. All Aboard Florida will turn into the casino express.”