WIGC 2018—State of the Nations Address

Press Release
For Immediate Release


WIGC 2018—State of the Nations Address

February 6, 2018

Good morning and welcome to the 23nd Annual Western Indian Gaming Conference. We owe a debt of gratitude to the sponsors, vendors, and seminar speakers, who have supported the conference all these years, as well as you, the attendees, for helping to make WIGC a yearly success. As a council member of the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians, and on behalf of Chairman Mazzetti and the remaining tribal council, I’d also like to personally welcome you to our tribal land and facilities.

Whether, this is your first time, or one of many visits, we want you to return home feeling your time here was spent well.

We have assembled a series of seminars and offer a schedule packed with panel discussions that touch on a variety of issues in both Indian country and the gaming industry and features experts in a variety of fields. We hope that you will find these discussions both helpful and informative and ask you to please attend and participate in the sessions.

I also hope you will check out the variety of products and services offered by our vendors. Many have traveled long distances to be here and are an important part of the WIGC.

Also, for the first time this year, we are offering Minimum Continuing Legal Education workshops, or MCLEs that, pending State Bar approval, go toward the requirement for attorneys in California that they complete 25 hours of ongoing legal training every three years. Any attorney seeking MCLE credits must sign in to the MCLE seminar when they arrive.

Central to my remarks is the state of the tribal nations, and in a word, I can report that the state of the tribal nations in California is strong. Tribes continue to emerge from the debilitating recession earlier this decade and our most recent figures show that tribal gaming in California is generating $7.8 billion is economic output and has added $5 billion in value to the California economy.

In the past year, California tribes have announced over $1.5 billion in casino expansions and renovations. Most recently, San Pasqual announced a $50 million expansion just up the road from where we sit. In late December, Pechanga opened the doors to their $285 million expansion and here at Rincon, we recently completed the final phase of a $160 million expansion. But let’s not forget what is going on in Northern California. In March, the Karuk Tribe of California will open the doors of their brand new casino. Chairman Attebery, on behalf of the CNIGA membership, we congratulate you and your tribe on this monumental achievement.

In addition, tribes are continuing a long-term trend of diversifying their economies, as many have invested in a variety of enterprises that will help them continue down the path of self-reliance that began with gaming. Up and down California, tribes are infusing their local economies with economic projects that have brought jobs and prosperity to communities that have struggled economically for years. Throughout the state, tribes have engaged in such varied enterprises as light manufacturing, organic farming, creating gourmet foodstuffs, as well as expanding their footprint in the services and hospitality industries.

Nongaming operations generated $3.3. billion in economic output and $1.5 billion in value to California in 2014, the year for which we have the most recent data. Overall, tribal entities have generated $11.2 billion in economic output in the state of California.

Gaming tribes have also contributed more than $600 million to non-gaming tribes via the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund. Many non-gaming tribes have used this as seed money to start their own economic ventures and initiatives. An additional $137.9 million in economic output, as well as 828 jobs in 2015, came from tribes receiving funding from gaming tribes.

Altogether, tribal gaming and non-gaming operations provide over 85,000 jobs statewide, 63,000 of which are from gaming and include 51,000 direct hires. To place it in perspective, that means tribal enterprises employ a greater number of workers in California than in the pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing industry.

What’s important is where many of these jobs are located, as they are often in rural communities and small towns that are economically neglected and where people have, historically, had to leave to find employment and economic prosperity; this is something that we as tribes acutely understand. In addition, the salaries and benefits provided by tribal casinos exceed market wages for the same labor pool in the State.

As mentioned earlier, the Karuk tribe, whose Rain Rock Casino in Yreka will be opening soon, held a job fair for 200 positions. Roughly 800 people lined-up and applied for those positions. This demonstrates the need many of our state’s communities have for economic growth, especially in areas where state and federal government jobs aren’t enough and only limited opportunities for private enterprise exist.

Behind both gaming and other tribal enterprises, the jobs created have had enormous impacts in local communities. Though a common complaint is that tribes take money away from the local and state tax base, tribal enterprises end up being far more valuable to local communities’ quality of life than the taxes paid on, say, a 20-acre parcel of land sitting in an empty corner of the county.

Moreover, these same communities benefit from tribal gaming and non-gaming operations as they generated nearly $480 million in state and local tax revenue, nearly $400 million of which comes from tribal gaming operations alone.

This impact is often ignored. We need to remind both lawmakers and the public of the positive effects to local communities. If we don’t, non-tribal gaming enterprises will seek to benefit from misperceptions of the true scope of the economic impact tribal enterprises have on local communities.

Specifically, the card room industry is touting local revenues they generate to do an end run around the law. This is unacceptable.

Tribes have exclusivity to offer Class III gaming, house banked and percentage card games because the voters of this state approved a constitutional amendment to do so. They have not done so for card clubs. In fact, the public resoundingly rejected the expansion of Class III gaming at card rooms in 2004 when 84% of voters said no to the card rooms attempt to amend the California constitution.

Since that time, countless California card clubs are increasing their offerings to the point where they are well on their way to being full-fledged house banked casinos. In essence, this is a slippery slope. They are making small changes to the rules of games and contracting with professional players to act as de facto house-banked games. Once again, this is unacceptable.

Some are arguing that an equitable and fair legislative fix needs to be the solution, but let me say clearly that this is not a fairness issue, it is a legal issue, and until the law is changed, the card rooms must desist from this type of activity. Period.

We promise to oppose any piece of legislation that seeks to give the card rooms an unfair advantage, to the tribes detriment, and that rewards them for employing illegal and unearned rights in California.

Among the issue areas that CNIGA is actively working to remedy this upcoming legislative session is a bill that would require local law enforcement entities to enforce tribal exclusion orders for problem patrons at tribal casinos. Currently, as a PL 280 state, local law enforcement is given jurisdiction over tribal lands, but can choose to ignore, at their own whim, these orders. Tribal governments spend millions of dollars a year to ensure well-regulated tribal casinos. This bill will further enable tribal governments to protect our patrons while on Indian lands.

There is also a great need for regulatory funding transparency. It is currently unclear as to how state regulatory agencies are utilizing regulatory fees paid by tribal governments. It is, however, becoming increasingly clear that the state is unable to answer critical questions regarding the services or activities that are supported by moneys appropriated from the Indian Gaming Special Distribution Fund, how they allocate those moneys, or how the measures of workload completed for each service or activity are calculated, to name just a few. Without this type of transparency, it is possible that tribes are shouldering an unfair portion of the funding burden at the state level.

As far as we can determine, the formula for funding appears to be arbitrary as the criteria for SDF funding seems to be absent from any state source. Our attempts to find out how the amount of funding is determined has left us bewildered and frustrated.

CNIGA is currently working on several remedies and we are actively engaging legislative staff to come up with solutions, including a potential report generated through the Legislative Analysts Office.

As always, we will keep you apprised of these issues as they evolve and develop.

Just as tribes united to form CNIGA and establish state constitutional exclusivity for Class III gaming, and are seeing the benefits from that foresight, we must now also come together so future generations can continue on the path to self-reliance and prosperity.

However, we can’t simply sit back and expect that others will do the work for us. The only way that we remain viable is for us to put the time and effort into positive outcomes for California tribes and remain vigilant in defense of what we have worked so hard to achieve.

So, I am issuing a direct call-to-action to you, the CNIGA general membership, to remain actively engaged in these issues. It is only through your participation that this organization can remain effective. I also invite all non-member tribes to re-join the effort to protect our inherent sovereign rights. As an organization based on majority vote, CNIGA is only as strong as our members make it, and each member brings valuable and unique insight.

In the tens of thousands of years that our collective peoples have lived in what is now known as California, these past three or four decades have been some of the most remarkable times in our existence. Nearly extinguished at the hands of invaders, we not only have survived, but through sheer persistence and common action, we have found a way to thrive.

From the Tolowa Dee-ni on the Smith River to the Chemehuevi on the Colorado River, tribal nations are asserting their proper place in the framework of governments in California. Gaming has been the well from which this tribal renaissance sprung and the mechanism tribes used to forge their way back into the public consciousness. However, as our ancestors learned, our cultures and well-being are always precarious. Choosing to not involve yourselves and your tribes in the legislative process is a luxury that we cannot afford.

CNIGA doesn’t just want your input, it needs your commitment. We will do our best to keep you informed and provide forums such as this one for you to participate and make your voices heard in the halls of Sacramento and Washington. For too long, tribal voices were not heard in our state and federal governments and gaming has changed that, but if those voices fall silent, we will lose all that we have gained. Not too many years ago, our cultures were on the verge of extinction, but we found a tool in gaming to survive. Now, let’s use that tool so we will thrive for generations yet-to-come.

Thank you, welcome to Rincon and enjoy this year’s Western Indian Gaming Conference!

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