Time Misses the Point of Tribal Government Gaming

Press Release
For Immediate Release


Time Misses the Point of Tribal Government Gaming

December 13, 2002

The recent issue of Time magazine contains a misleading and inaccurate profile of tribal government gaming in the United States. Rather than attempt to deal with each of the numerous errors in the article, the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, which represents California gaming and non-gaming tribes, wishes to make the following points. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 was a congressional response to Supreme Court rulings recognizing the inherent sovereign right of tribal nations to engage in gaming on Indian lands without interference from state and local governments. It is not a federal relief program for Indians. IGRA was intended to provide a regulatory framework so tribal governments could utilize gaming to promote strong tribal governments and economic development on Indian lands. It was never intended as a panacea for widespread poverty in Indian Country. IGRA requires that tribes be the primary beneficiary of gaming. The act specifies that revenues from tribal gaming be used for five purposes: to fund tribal government programs; to provide for the general welfare of the tribe and its members; to promote tribal economic development; to donate to charities; and to help fund operations of local government agencies. IGRA requires that management contracts with non-Indian companies must be approved by the federal government and are limited to seven years with no more than 35 percent of the gaming revenues going to the management firm. Most tribal reservations are in remote parts of the country, often lacking water, electricity and other infrastructure. California reservations and rancherias have for generations wallowed in substandard conditions with inadequate roads and water and sewer systems. As a result, gaming was recognized by the Congressionally appointed National Gaming Impact Study Commission as the only tool for economic development on Indian land that has proven successful. The California tribal-state compacts include a revenue sharing provision in which gaming tribes share revenues with non-gaming tribes and tribes with limited gaming. This program, the first of its kind in the nation, ensures that all federally recognized tribes in California benefit from gaming revenues. Legal uncertainties involved with the federal trust status of Indian lands has historically discouraged financial institutions and other investment companies from providing the capital needed for tribal projects. Generations of poverty and the lack of educational opportunities for tribal leaders also contributed to the difficulty American Indians have had in acquiring investment capital for economic projects on Indian lands. As a result, some investors have generated extraordinary profits from assisting tribal governments in establishing gaming projects. Tribal and state gaming regulators in California recently adopted regulations that will finally allow tribal governments to utilize the bond market as an alternative source of financing. California tribes are using gaming revenues to purchase controlling interest in local banks. Tribal nations are engaging in creative and innovative investment opportunities with other tribes and financial institutions. Today, more and more tribal leaders have the ability and sophistication to oversee multimillion-dollar tribal budgets, manage complex tribal enterprises and negotiate, as equals, with corporate America. Gaming has enabled tribes to build reservation economies that go far beyond casino gaming. Casinos are providing California tribes with the investment capital needed to develop resort hotels, banks, retail shopping malls, service stations, aircraft manufacturing companies, bottling plants and other businesses. Tribal governments have also become a leader in charitable giving, donating millions of dollars to various causes. Tribal government gaming in California for the year ending in September was the state’s fastest growing industry, generating 35,000 jobs, an increase of 12.1 percent over the previous year, according to figures provided by the state Employment Development Department. Because of the remoteness of many Indian reservations, most tribal nations in the United States have not been able to benefit from tribal government gaming. Several tribal nations have elected not to establish gaming operations for traditional and other reasons. About 200 of 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States have gaming operations. Of $12.7 billion in revenue generated by 290 tribal government casinos in fiscal year 2001, about $8.4 billion was generated by 39 operations. Generally, tribes in heavily populated areas in the country have proven to be more successful. But even casinos on rural reservations have helped tribal governments and local communities by generating jobs and reducing welfare costs and public assistance. Tribal government gaming is generating economic development on Indian lands for the first time in generations. It is providing Native Americans in California and throughout the country with the resources to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights as sovereign nations and to finally meet their basic governmental obligations. It has empowered tribal nations with the means to achieve self-governance and self-reliance. Gaming has given tribal leaders the opportunity to acquire the knowledge, skills and self-confidence needed to enhance their governance capabilities and, for the first time in generations, provide for the health, education and welfare of their people. Gaming has enabled tribes to become an economic force, contributing to the prosperity of those on Indian lands and surrounding communities. It has allowed tribal governments to be a partner in U.S. commerce and industry. It has given Native Americans a voice in national and state politics. It has restored to American Indians a sense of pride and self-respect. It is helping Indians recapture their past, preserve their culture and insure their future.

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