WIGC 2019—State of the Nations Address

Press Release
For Immediate Release


WIGC 2019—State of the Nations Address

February 5, 2019

Harrah’s Southern California Resort and Casino—Chairman Steve Stallings:

Honorable tribal leaders, elected officials, industry partners and guests, I am humbled to stand in front of you to deliver my fourth, and final, State of the Tribal Nations Address. When I was first elected to serve on CNIGA’s Executive Committee in 2009 we found ourselves in the middle of a nationwide economic crisis.  The decade that followed saw ups and downs, but tribal governments, led by the spirits of our ancestors, and wisdom of our elders, remained focused and vigilant.  Today, I am pleased to report, that the State of the Tribal Nations is strong . . .  and growing.

Thirty years after the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 61 of California’s 110 federally recognized tribes are operating a total of 63 casinos.  According to the California Employment Development Department, California’s tribal governments directly employ nearly 64,000 Californians, an increase of nearly 3% over last year.  These figures do not take into account the hundreds of local vendors and service providers working with tribal casinos that are employing tens of thousands of additional people.  It is estimated that for every job created directly by tribal gaming, three more are created by local businesses providing goods and services for that tribal property.  Overall, it is estimated that more than 250,000 are now employed, either directly or indirectly, because of tribal government gaming.  Altogether, tribal governmental enterprises employ more workers in California than in the pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing industries.

Over the years we have learned that where tribal governments thrive, whole communities, Native and non-Native alike, thrive. And this past year proved to be an especially robust year for tribal government gaming. From the redwoods to the Mojave, tribes are both expanding and breaking ground on new facilities. This past year saw a flurry of activity as 20 tribes came to agreements with the state of California and signed either new or amended compacts.

In the Sacramento suburbs, frames of buildings on the south edge of Elk Grove that have served as ghostly reminders of the last recession will soon neighbor a brand new $500 million gaming facility for the Wilton Rancheria, who recently began preliminary efforts at construction and expect to open their first gaming facility sometime next year.

On the other side of Sacramento, in the farm fields near Wheatland, the Enterprise Rancheria has partnered with the Seminole Tribe of Florida-owned Hard Rock International to construct a $440 million casino and hotel, to be known as Hard Rock Sacramento and is expected to open in the fall of this year.

To the east of Sacramento, near the town of Ione, the Buena Vista Band of Me-wuk Indians broke ground last April on a $168 million project with Ceasars slated to open this year.

All of this capital-area activity doesn’t even touch on the $56 million expansion that the United Auburn Indian Community has recently undertaken on their existing Thunder Valley facility in Lincoln. And just up Highway 50 in the Sierra foothills, travelers can stop by the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians’ new $7 million fuel center that opened last summer.

Tribal gaming is also showing robust expansion in other areas of the state, as well.. In Southern California, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation are not only undergoing a $226 million hotel and resort expansion that will result in a 12-story, 300-room hotel and 42,000 square feet of conference space, they are also constructing the Sycuan Square project, whose initial phase includes a 5,500 square-foot convenience store and 1,600 square-foot gas station. All of this activity has resulted in over 700 new casino and resort jobs.

In the far northern part of the state, the Karuk tribe opened their Rain Rock Casino in Yreka last spring creating hundreds of jobs in an area of the state where they are much needed.  Similarly, on the far north coast, the Elk Valley Rancheria is planning an entirely new casino.

In total, these projects have effects that go beyond their communities and provide significant aid to the broader California economy. Tribal government enterprises generate nearly $8 billion in economic output and $5 billion in added value to the California economy as well as $480 million in state and local tax revenue, nearly $400 million of which is generated by our gaming operations alone.

Judging from these statistics, the tribes of California have much to be proud of. But, there is still more to this story. Tribal government gaming has done much to dramatically reduce the number of Californians on welfare, aid to families with dependent children and other public assistance, saving the state millions of dollars annually. Up and down the state, there are also numerous examples of tribal nations entering into voluntary agreements with local and county governments that ensure  they receive tens of millions of dollars in compensation for service and infrastructure impacts. The contribution of Indian gaming to the state of California is nothing short of spectacular.

All this activity is a direct result of the exercise of tribal sovereign rights.  Our ability to prosper and care for our people through economic development all too often has its limits in the minds of others.  We should always conduct ourselves as good neighbors and citizens, willing to listen and to talk, but always ready to defend our fundamental beliefs, principles, and economic interests and overall cultural identity.  We must remain vigilant against those who would seek to divide us, charm us, threaten us, tempt us or otherwise lead us to believe that our security and well-being is to be found in anything other than our tribal sovereignty. The allure of false promises, simplistic arguments, and division among ourselves may be the greatest danger facing us. Our history demonstrates that if we are to fail, it will be by our own hand, not by some outside aggressor.  This year will be no different as tribes will be faced with numerous challenges.

More than 20 tribes are operating under the original 1999 compacts.  Those tribes are looking to Governor Newsom to re-negotiate compacts that take into account the uniqueness of each tribe and negotiate agreements that will continue to allow for prosperity on and off of tribal lands.

With the Supreme Court ruling throwing out the federal prohibition against sports wagering, it is no doubt that this will become a hot topic for discussion among legislators, tribal governments and numerous commercial entities that stand to profit from its legalization.  Tribal governments must come together to ensure meaningful input on the framework of any sports wagering legislation and or public policy.  Caution should be taken and all aspects of implementing   sports wagering, including development of a regulatory framework - that includes enforcement, must be thoroughly developed before California considers legalizing another form of gaming.

California is plagued with a commercial gaming industry that has run amok.  For the 7 year in a row, CNIGA is calling on the state of California to enforce the rules set in the State Constitution to ensure a well-regulated gaming industry.  Laws are of little worth without enforcement.  It is the job of the state to ensure that the commercial gaming industry adheres to the very laws that threatened to shut down tribal gaming in the 90’s.  The illegal gaming being conducted at California Cardrooms is a direct violation of California’s prohibition of banked and percentage card games off Indian lands.  This exclusive right was given to California’s tribal governments when the California electorate overwhelmingly voted to amend the constitution to limit slot machines as well as banked and percentage card games to Indian land.  The law is clear and must be enforced.

It is in our best interest, and the interest of the state, that the gaming industry, both commercial and governmental be fair and well regulated.  Tribes are proud of our regulatory track record and hope cardrooms will be held to the same standard.

It is no secret that the tribal gaming market in California is among the largest.  An industry of this size and significance is in need of a trade association.  It is with this wisdom, that a handful of tribal leaders, meeting in a tiny hotel room in the, now non-existent, hotel at the Sacramento airport decided to form CNIGA in 1988.  Since that time CNIGA has served as a vital resource to tribal governments and has been at the forefront of every major battle facing the tribal gaming industry.  Our work will never stop which is why having a strong association with sound policies is critical.

Two and a half years ago the executive committee began an extensive search for an executive director to lead us into a new era.  Lee Acebedo was retiring and we had time to think about the position and search for the right candidate.  After a detailed search and exhaustive interview process, we selected Susan Jensen as our new executive director.  Susan has served CNIGA for nearly 21 years and her institutional knowledge and passion for California’s tribal governments was unsurpassed.  Susan has done a great job building a strong team at CNIGA and we are thankful for their hard work and dedication.

Speaking of teams, I’ve always viewed the work that CNIGA does as an association as a collaborative effort. So, this year, I’ve asked members of our CNIGA team to help me deliver this speech and provide insight into the areas for which they have expertise.

To speak more on the organization, please welcome CNIGA executive director Susan Jensen.

Susan Jensen:

Thank you, Chairman Stallings and thank you all for being here. I can’t believe that this is the already 24th annual Western Indian Gaming Conference. The WIGC is an annual encapsulation of what CNIGA serves to do all year.

As the chairman said, we are a trade association and serve to provide various forums of communications and engagement both within the industry and in the public policy arena.  CNIGA is the largest regional gaming association in the United States and single collective of tribes within the state of California.  Our purpose is to protect and enhance the sovereignty, independence and self-reliance of each of our member tribes.  The member tribes do not exist for CNIGA, rather, CNIGA exists for our members.

In addition to representing tribal governments, we also serve more than 30 associate members. We are especially proud of our strong associate membership program that provides unprecedented access to tribal leaders, CNIGA events and information.

We are a lean and mean operation with four dedicated staff members, including myself. During the year the staff works to implement the strategic plan developed by the executive committee and adopted by members.  We organize conferences, such as this one, attend other industry and public policy events as well as coordinate regular organizational and extra-organizational meetings with policy makers and other relevant groups and individuals.  In addition, we get the honor of developing special projects.  Over the past three years the focus of our special projects has been technology upgrades.  First, we re-branded the association and created a new website.  The following year brought the CNIGA and WIGC apps.  If you have not yet downloaded the apps, I highly recommend them as a way to have information at your fingertips.  This year our focus was enhancing the website by adding a CNIGA marketplace.

With the help of CNIGA’s associate member, Sovereign Partners, CNIGA is now offering branded merchandise at the click of a button.  Gone are the days of bulk orders and sizing problems.  Now, each individual can go onto our website, order the items they want, and have them shipped directly to their office or home.  Prices listed on the site reflect the retail price, however all CNIGA members – tribal and associate – will receive discount codes to be used toward their purchases.  Revenues raised will go toward the CNIGA general fund.  So, check out cniga.com and get some new CNIGA swag!

Over the past several years we have increased our political footprint and re-engaged the public.  With our statewide media plan, to our weekly legislative reports and bill tracking, CNIGA strives to keep our members up to date with information.  We also work with state, national and international media to comment and clarify issues and provide an industry perspective for the California tribal gaming market.

With our home base in Sacramento, we are well poised to work on legislative and public policy issues facing the industry.  CNIGA has sponsored, supported, and opposed a wide variety of legislation over the years.

This year, we continue our work to have legislation passed that will recognize the violation of tribal exclusion orders, at tribal gaming facilities, as criminal trespass.  We are thankful to the tribes and organizations who have worked with CNIGA to create strong language that respects the sovereignty of each tribal government and will provide for increased security for both our patrons and employees.

Similarly, we are also working with public officials and state regulators to explore ways to create greater transparency in how regulatory fees are utilized by state regulatory agencies.

As you can see, CNIGA is ready to address whatever issues arise that will effect tribal sovereign rights, however, none of this will work without member engagement. It is you, the tribal members, who are the heart of this organization and it is you whose participation is so fundamental in making this organization effective. It is vital that lawmakers and other public officials hear your voice directly and not through others, which is how CNIGA’s events are designed to work. There is always room for you to be involved at CNIGA.

While involvement is vital, so is information.  Here to provide an overview of this year’s legislative environment is CNIGA’s political consultant Afrack Vargas.

Afrack Vargas:

Thank you, Susan. This has been a historic year for American Indians in elective office. We have not one but two American Indian women in Congress and Assemblymember James Ramos made history as the first California Indian to be elected to that body.

The Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives received a huge boost from California as the Democrats gained several seats in the state. Democrats also gained solid supermajorities in both houses of the California Legislature.

CNIGA also was successful with the candidates the organization backed, including Governor Gavin Newsom, who CNIGA endorsed last spring following our gubernatorial candidate forum.

In August, CNIGA held an additional candidate forum at Morongo. Among the successful candidates backed by CNIGA were Democrat Tasha Boerner Horvath, who is now serving as the Assemblymember from the 76th District and Republican Tyler Diep, who represents the 72 in that same legislative body.

Even at the local level California Indians have made gains. In Lake County, the five-person county Board of Supervisors now has members of two local tribes serving on that body, Jose Simon III, Chairman of the Middletown Rancheria and E.J. Crandell, Chairman of Robinson Rancheria.

Unfortunately, we lost some close allies, but we have a great opportunity to educate new members as they take office.  CNIGA will be holding a legislative summit to introduce new members to tribal leaders as well as provide a detailed history of tribal government gaming, tribal sovereign rights and the uniqueness of the industry.

A key part of all of this are the CNIGA state and federal PACs. These PACs let candidates and policymakers know that we are to be taken seriously as a force in both state and national politics.

For the fourth year in a row, CNIGA will be holding our annual PAC fundraiser in April.  Formally called “The Spring Swing”, the event will bring together CNIGA members and lawmakers at a fun and friendly event in Sacramento. We invite each of you to participate as it not only raises money for our state PAC, but also puts you in touch with state lawmakers.

Insofar as major issues on the horizon this year, as Chairman Stallings mentioned, the U.S. Supreme Court has lifted the ban on sports betting, permitting states to legalize the practice if they wish. Commercial gaming is eyeing the practice. In the final weeks of last year’s legislative session an unidentified group filed  initiative language and  paperwork  that would, among other provisions, amend the California Constitution to legalize sports betting.  While this effort has not progressed, we expect similar efforts in the coming months.

With the new legislative session comes renewed opportunity and responsibility.  As stated earlier, engagement is key.  Legislators are eager to hear from tribal leaders and are thirsty for information.  Someone who is keenly aware of the importance of involvement is CNIGA’s newly elected Vice Chairman, James Siva.  It is my honor to welcome Vice Chairman Siva to the podium.

Vice Chairman James Siva:

Thank you.  I am humbled to stand before this prestigious gathering of tribal leaders and speak to you about issues of mutual passion.  The figures quoted earlier by Chairman Stallings are nothing less than staggering.  Just 30 years ago, tribes were struggling to find viable economic development programs, yet nothing worked.  Tribal governments were dependent upon others and the dream of true self-reliance seemed out of reach for many.  The 1988 Supreme Court Decision and ultimate passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act forever solidified the inherent sovereign right of tribes to have gaming on their lands. Since that time, tribes have developed strong tribal governments, providing services for our members and giving back to our local communities.

Unlike commercial casino owners, tribal governments are invested in California because to us, there has been no other home. Our industry is different because of our relation to this land, to our communities. Because we are sovereign entities does not mean that we live in a vacuum and are set apart from our communities. Rather, we are the beating heart of those communities, the stalwart people whose past, present and future are deeply rooted in our various communities throughout California.

Because of this, we help to take care of our communities.  Collectively tribes are among the largest sources of charitable contributors throughout the state.

In a state ravaged by increasingly devastating wildfires in recent years, tribes have stepped up to help with preventative, defensive and recovery efforts.

Sonoma County’s Graton Rancheria donated $1 million to the Bay Area Fire Relief Fund in the wake of 2017’s devastating fires to that area. Additionally, Graton has given over $7 million to other educational and environmental programs though its charitable organization.

Here in San Diego County, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation gave $20,000 to help relief efforts for victims of the West Fire in Alpine.

In Northern California, the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians donated $1 million to aid the victims of the Camp Fire, which destroyed the entire Northern California town of Paradise.

Up in San Bernardino County, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians gave more than $1 million to the city of Highland’s fire department, which helped to fund a new fire engine with new life-saving equipment.   Similarly, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians bought a new ladder truck for the San Barbara County Fire Department. The list of cash contributions goes on and on.

But I would be remiss in not mentioning the involvement and manpower available to the state as a result of tribal fire departments.  Whether it be an every-day call or the unimaginable firestorm, tribal fire departments answer the bell.  For example, 95% of the calls answered by the Rincon fire department are for off-reservation services.  Tribes throughout California sent their tribal fire departments to Santa Rosa, Redding and Paradise, all who saw devastating firestorms in their area.

In addition to charitable contributions to the state’s first responders, tribes are also contributing to community charities. The Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians donated $6 million dollars this past spring to build a new aquatic center at San Jacinto High School.

Over the past 33 years, my own tribe, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, have donated over two and a half million Thanksgiving meals, including a donation of over 10,000 turkeys just this past year.

And just this past month, with the government shutdown affecting people up and down California, including tribes and tribal programs, Redding Rancheria stepped up and offered free meals to furloughed federal workers and one of their guests at their Win River Casino.

These are but a small number of examples from the hundreds of acts of charity that tribes engage in every year. There are gifts to student programs, community renovations and environmental clean ups. The list of charitable activities goes on. Tribes also help local communities by bringing in federal funding that is only available to tribal governments. We work with our communities to help provide and are often leaders in helping to solve local problems.

Tribal government gaming has been the engine of our prosperity and a giving spirit has always run deep within our cultural character. Not only has gaming helped our people to be self-sufficient, it has helped the greater communities of which we are a part. Stepping in to help where it is needed is something that comes naturally to us.

The public understands that these actions are part of who we are and that we are true to our communities and the state. This is why tribal government gaming remains popular in California. This past year, CNIGA conducted a poll using the firm Gilliard Blanning & Associates to measure how tribal government gaming is faring with the California public and the results were incredible.

Put simply, tribal government gaming remains the most popular form of gaming in the state of California. A full 62% of respondents had a positive opinion of tribal government gaming. Tribal gaming is also the only form of gaming to top 60% in the poll. Contrast this with the state’s card clubs who only registered a 28% favorability rating among the public.

The most surprising number revealed in the poll is related to the public’s position on legalizing sports wagering.  When presented with arguments both in favor and in opposition,  67% of the California electorate opposes the legalization of sports wagering..  In a pleasant turn of events, 71% state they would support if the activity was restricted to Indian lands.

We don’t take these numbers for granted.  The people of California have helped us in our pursuit of economic self-determination and their ongoing support is testament to the success of our businesses and community outreach.

The dictionary defines unity as singleness of purpose or action.  As a united front, we increase the power and credibility of all our tribes.  When we began this journey some years ago, we were strongly united in purpose and enjoyed substantial support from the people of California.  As we continue, and new challenges arise, it is critical to our very existence as sovereign tribal nations and as a people, that we re-capture this important unity.  Therefore, I ask each and every one of you here today, as fellow tribal leaders and as fellow Native Americans, let us re-commit ourselves at this conference to the same level of unity that led to the success of Propositions 5 and 1A, and to go forward together as one, as we face and conquer the challenges that lie before us.  Together, we will ensure a bright and secure future for generations to come. Thank you all!

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