TAMPA — James Billie, the Seminole Tribe of Florida chairman who led the tribe to wealth through gaming operations, suffered a stroke early this month and has been on medical leave while rehabilitating.
Billie, 67, has missed one tribal council meeting since the stroke, but Seminole officials are hoping he will be back for a slate of meetings next week. He currently is recovering in Brighton, near Lake Okeechobee.
"I suspect he'll be back. Haven't heard anything different," said Jim Shore, tribal general counsel. "It's just too early and we don't know the extent of it so there's no need to be talking about any replacement or anything right now."
Shore said he did not know the specifics of Billie's stroke or condition.
At the tribe's last meeting, the remaining four council members appointed Andrew Bowers Jr., to chair the meeting. Shore said Billie's absence hasn't affected any of the tribe's gaming operations, including the Seminole Hard Rock Casino near Tampa.
"The tribe's been run forever and it can run on its own," Shore said. "All of our gaming operations are going and all of our operations departments are moving with their department heads. Things are still running as normal."
The Seminole Tribe of Florida, based in Hollywood, employs more than 12,000 through its government and its six gaming operations in the state.
Billie has served as tribe chairman for almost a quarter century. In 2003, he was impeached amid financial scandal but came back to reclaim the post in May during an election that swept out other long-entrenched tribal leaders.
Billie started a high-stakes bingo operation in 1979 that opened the door to the multi-billion dollar gaming industry run by American Indian tribes.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or [email protected]