High Stakes

Florida Seminole Gaming and Sovereignty

High Stakes

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 36 b&w photos, 1 map Published: August 2008

American Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Native and Indigenous Studies

In 1979, Florida Seminoles opened the first tribally operated high-stakes bingo hall in North America. At the time, their annual budget stood at less than $2 million. By 2006, net income from gaming had surpassed $600 million. This dramatic shift from poverty to relative economic security has created tangible benefits for tribal citizens, including employment, universal health insurance, and social services. Renewed political self-governance and economic strength have reversed decades of U.S. settler-state control. At the same time, gaming has brought new dilemmas to reservation communities and triggered outside accusations that Seminoles are sacrificing their culture by embracing capitalism. In High Stakes, Jessica R. Cattelino tells the story of Seminoles’ complex efforts to maintain politically and culturally distinct values in a time of new prosperity.

Cattelino presents a vivid ethnographic account of the history and consequences of Seminole gaming. Drawing on research conducted with tribal permission, she describes casino operations, chronicles the everyday life and history of the Seminole Tribe, and shares the insights of individual Seminoles. At the same time, she unravels the complex connections among cultural difference, economic power, and political rights. Through analyses of Seminole housing, museum and language programs, legal disputes, and everyday activities, she shows how Seminoles use gaming revenue to enact their sovereignty. They do so in part, she argues, through relations of interdependency with others. High Stakes compels rethinking of the conditions of indigeneity, the power of money, and the meaning of sovereignty.


High Stakes thoughtfully addresses a compelling contemporary issue that merits our attention and underscores the importance of taking seriously the experiences of Native nations in building theory. Cattelino’s insights about the fungibility of money and sovereignty as interdependence are generative contributions that will be of use to scholars working in the fields of political sociology, economic sociology, and cultural sociology.” — Christopher Wetzel, Contemporary Sociology

“[A] fascinating and articulate book. . . . [A] good read for anyone interested in how Native gaming is transforming Indian country, the United States, and the relationship between them.” — Lisa Garrigues, Indian Country Today

“[O]pens a window into contemporary Seminole political, social, and cultural worlds.” — Lisa E. Emmerich, Western Historical Quarterly

“[T]his is a good book. It raises many questions of interest to students of the federal-Indian relation and offers considerable insight into the efforts of one people to come to terms with remarkable change.” — George Pierre Castile, Current Anthropology

“[T]his is an ethnographically rich and theoretically sophisticated monograph that is filled with countless insights that extend far beyond the concerns of the Florida Seminoles. High Stakes deserves, and will undoubtedly receive, a wide readership.” — Andrew K. Frank, Ethnohistory

“Although Cattelino’s treatment of both tribal sovereignty and Indian gaming are excellent, the author’s greatest contribution stems from her exploration of the maintenance of Seminole indigeneity, including the fungibility of Seminole casino profits for the purpose of cultural revitalization and retention. . . . Highly recommended.” — B. R. Ritter, Choice

“As High Stakes engages the most current scholarship on sovereignty, indigeneity, and money in an ethnography of contemporary Florida Seminole Indian life, it deserves to be widely read by scholars interested in the dynamics of indigeneity, globalization, citizenship, and money.” — Larry Nesper, American Ethnologist

“Cattelino’s painstaking methodology and interest in the details of everyday tribal life leads her to ask suggestive questions and arrive at brilliant conclusions. Highly recommended for readers of history, political theory, and economics.” — Korina Cornish, Foreword Reviews

“In this lucidly written, carefully conceived, persuasively argued and thoroughly researched book, Jessica Cattelino studies the ways that members of the Seminole Indian nation have reconfigured material and symbolic forms of their sovereignty in the casino-era. As such, High Stakes makes a valuable contribution to literature on cultural economy, cultural studies, political economy and cultural history in addition to the author’s home discipline of anthropology.” — Fiona Nicoll, International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies

“In this wonderfully clear book, Jessica Cattelino has established the value of an ethnographic approach to gambling and produced an outstanding contemporary ethnography of the Florida Seminole. . . . This book is essential reading for anyone interested in gambling, money, and sovereignty. It is a lesson in how to write a book about gambling without falling into the usual moralizing traps. It is also an outstanding example of the possibilities of contemporary ethnographic methods and should prove an excellent resource for undergraduate and research student teaching.” — Rebecca Cassidy, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“This book is an important addition to the literature on Indian gaming, and would be a good ethnography for courses in American Indian studies, economic anthropology, and political anthropology. It is also a wonderful volume for anyone interested in contemporary reservation life and the fascinating intersections of tradition and change.” — Kathleen Pickering Sherman, PoLAR

High Stakes is a work of great ethnographic and theoretical power, written in prose of great clarity. It is also a model of sensitive and thoughtful writing with respect to American Indians, who have long been rightly suspicious of the ethnographic gaze and ethnographic representation. High Stakes shows what ethnography can, indeed must, be and do in the twenty-first century.” — Sherry B. Ortner, author of Anthropology and Social Theory: Culture, Power, and the Acting Subject

High Stakes tracks to the core of contemporary North American settler society today—the economy of value that structures expectation and possibility for indigenous peoples and the state. Here Jessica R. Cattelino examines with great ethnographic care and rigor the expectation that Indians be poor even where they have wealth, that wealth portends a diminishment of culture, and that indigeneity then stand before this process in an unrelenting and unchanging way. With a nuanced, careful, and precise ethnographic eye to and with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, this very important book proves so much otherwise.” — Audra Simpson, Columbia University


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jessica R. Cattelino is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: Seminole Gaming in the Sunshine State 1

1. Casino Roots 29

2. Cultural Currencies 59

3. Fungibility: The Politics of Casino Money 95

Interlude: Mateo Romero's Indian Gaming 125

4. Rebuilding Sovereignty 127

5. Sovereign Interdependencies 161

Conclusion: Betting on the House 193

Notes 207

References 253

Index 279
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Honorable Mention, 2009 Gregory Bateson Prize, Society for Cultural Anthropology

Winner, 2010 Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff Memorial Prize (awarded by the Society for the Anthropology of North America)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4227-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4209-0
Publicity material