Jessica R. Cattelino

Weatherhead Resident Scholar


High Stakes: Seminole Sovereignty in the Casino Era

Is gaming the “new buffalo” for Native American tribes? Do casinos lead to “cultural loss” for indigenous peoples? What is the relationship between gaming and tribal sovereignty?

In High Stakes: Seminole Sovereignty in the Casino Era, Jessica Cattelino examines the relationship between tribal casinos and Florida Seminoles’ efforts to maintain themselves as a culturally and politically distinct people. By investigating the layered meanings of culture, sovereignty, and citizenship, Cattelino illuminates not only the experiences of contemporary indigenous peoples, but also their complex relationships to American political processes and popular culture.

Seminoles opened the first tribally operated high stakes bingo hall in Native North America in 1979, “launching a gaming revolution that has built American Indian tribes’ political and economic power even as it exposes them to new scrutiny in American law, politics, and popular culture,” Cattelino says. “I argue that casinos emerged from and reinforce Seminole sovereignty and cultural distinctiveness; they are not mere moneymakers pursued at the cost of cultural continuity.”

Countering the view that gaming is against “native values,” Cattelino examines other economic regimes pursued by Seminoles in the twentieth century, including cattle, smoke shops, women’s commercial crafts, and men’s alligator wrestling. By “moving outward from the everyday politics and practices of indigeneity,” she develops a new social theory of sovereignty that recognizes Seminoles’ simultaneous efforts to both realize their independence and create economic, political, and cultural relations of interdependence.

In this first book-length ethnography of Native American gaming, Cattelino explores sovereignty as a world view, not simply a legal and political status. 

Affiliation at time of award:
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Anthropology, New York University

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