Opinion

Stephen Bowers: The real 'Godfather of Indian gaming' passes on




Howard E. Tommie, 1938-2017, served as chairman of the Seminole Tribe, president of the United South and Eastern Tribes and president of the National Indian Health Board. Photo: Alvin Lederer

Stephen D. Bowers pays tribute to the late Howard E. Tommie, a former chairman of the Seminole Tribe, calling him a visionary whose work in the late 1970s paved the way for the $27 billion Indian gaming industry:
It all started one evening in the spring of 1977. I had just returned from a meeting on the Brighton Reservation, a two-hour drive from Hollywood. As I parked my car about 6 p.m., I noticed Howard, my boss, coming out of the Tribal Executive Building on Stirling Road. Howard had his briefcase, so I knew he was going out of town. I asked "where are you off to now?" Howard responded "Pittsburgh." I said that I didn't think there were any tribes in Pennsylvania. Howard stated "there aren't any tribes but someone up there thinks we can make money out of Bingo."

I thought, money to be made out of a grade school game? That trip was not Howard's first trip to Pittsburgh. Howard did his research the old fashion way; he visited many of the bingo parlors in Pennsylvania — parlors that were restricted to churches, VFW halls, etc. Howard spoke with many of the operators. The way to make the money from Bingo was simple. Bingo parlors are regulated by various states on the amount of money that could be won on any one game of Bingo. The risk for the Seminole Tribe was to determine if we could operate a Bingo hall and not be regulated by the state on the amount of money on each game.

In other words, could an Indian tribe on a federal reservation land make it "High Stakes Bingo"? Howard Tommie was able to present this whole Bingo idea to the Seminole Tribal Council. With Howard's sheer determination and gumption, the Bingo idea became a reality. The first High Stakes Bingo hall opened in December 1979.

Read More on the Story:
Stephen D. Bowers: Seminole Tribe's Howard Tommie lit fire of Indian gaming (The South Florida Sun-Sentinel 4/5)

Also Today:
Former Seminole Tribe chairman Howard Tommie dies at 78 (The South Florida Sun-Sentinel 3/19)