James E. Billie was born at a chimpanzee farm on the Dania Beach Cutoff Canal in 1943 and lived in several Seminole camps after the death of his mother, when he was nine years old. He never knew his father.
After attending Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kansas, Billie served in the Army in Vietnam. He returned to Florida and began work for the Seminole Tribe of Florida in its Youth Corps. In 1979, he was first elected Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. At the time, the Tribe relied significantly on the U.S. Government for financial support, with a budget funded mostly by the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the U.S. Department of the Interior, as well as the Indian Health Service.
Under Billie’s leadership, the Seminole Tribe pioneered Indian Gaming in North America with the opening, in 1979, of a high-stakes bingo hall on the Hollywood Seminole Reservation. The predecessor to what is now the Seminole Casino Hollywood, the bingo hall attracted players with prizes that often topped $100,000. It was soon followed by casinos in Tampa, on the Brighton Reservation northwest of Lake Okeechobee, at Immokalee near Naples, and at Coconut Creek, in February, 2000. All of these casinos opened while Billie served as Chairman of the Seminole Tribe.
During his more than 20 years as Chairman, Seminole Gaming became one of the most successful and profitable gaming operations in the world. The Seminole Tribe has seen exponential increases in its income, so that it can now assist tribal members to become self-sufficient and pursue the education of their choice and capabilities.
In May, 2011, James Billie was again elected Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.