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Billie takes over Seminoles, points to Sanchez for casino expertise


With new leadership taking over for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, it prompts the question: What does that mean for the everyday casino gambler?

James E. Billie, a charismatic former chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, regained office Monday, in a jovial ceremony that drew a packed house at the Seminole Hollywood Casino Classic tent north of the casino. (It's a ceremonial spot, near the tribe's old oak tree.)

"I got kicked out at 57, now I'm back at 67," told the crowd, which lined up for an hour afterward to shake his and other leaders' hands.

So after that I finally to to ask Billie, "what's it mean for the everyday gambler?"

"My purpose is to make more money for the tribe," he said, while joking that looser slots and a friendlier atmosphere at the casinos matter to him.. "And I think this guy here can help us with that," he said, motioning to Tony Sanchez Jr., who was elected as the tribal council's vice chairman.

Sanchez has been a long-time general manager at the Seminole Casino Immokalee -- in other words, he's a casino guy -- so Billie's point is that he'll lean heavily on Sanchez for casino expertise.

Sanchez, who was born in Clewiston, has been Immokalee GM since 1999. Before that he was Seminole Gaming Commission director for four years and from 1985 to 1988 he was the marketing director of two separate Seminole Tribe of Florida projects to promote and open high stakes bingo operations for the tribes in Washington state and South Dakota.

Sanchez's take: "There'll be some tweaks, but no major overhauls," he said. He points out that running Immokalee -- a remote casino that better have some customer service skills (he said it more eloquently) -- gives him an understanding of the business that many tribal leaders may not have.

"I come from that industry and understand what it takes," he said, and when prompted to talk about how casino employees should feel, he said: "People who work in the Seminoles' casinos should be excited. Sure, there are things we'll do differently, but I don't think they have any big reason to be fearful. Overall, very much the status quo."

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Maybe you've made the right play, maybe you haven't. Your heart speeds up, your stomach rumbles.

That's why it's called gambling.

ACTION is a view of the numbers, the psychology and the flavor of gambling here in South Florida, through our lens.

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NICK SORTAL began playing 3-card "gut" and "Indian poker" on high school band trips, moved on to "night baseball" and "pass the trash" during a Dr. Pepper-infused midnight game in the 1980s at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and now play in a regular neighborhood Hold 'Em game in Plantation. I have been given the assignment of writing about the gambling life in South Florida casinos for the Sun-Sentinel...which means sitting around watching poker on TV now counts as research.
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