Gambling within Native American Tribes

Native American Tribal Government Gambling Tribal gambling accounted for $6.7 billion in revenues in 1997. 44 “Two-hundred and eighty seven tribal gambling facilities operated, most of them small; the eight largest account for more than forty percent of all revenue.” 45 It is estimated that approximately 100,000 individuals are employed in Indian gambling facilities, but a breakdown of employees indicating how many are Indian is not generally available. A study by the San Francisco Examiner prior to the state’s referendum vote indicated that Indian casinos in California employed nearly 15,000 individuals in 1998, only 10 percent of whom are Native American. 46 In testimony that same month before the Commission’s Indian Gambling Subcommittee in Del Mar, California, Native Americans were estimated to be approximately five percent of the total gambling industry workforce in the state. 47

According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), 156 tribes are involved in gambling activities. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act limits use of revenues to three purposes: “1) to fund tribal government operations or programs; 2) to provide for the general welfare of the Indian tribe and its members; and, 3) to promote tribal economic development.” 48 Forty-seven tribes have a per capita payment plan approved by BIA.

Some tribes have used this opportunity to rebuild infrastructure, diversify holdings, reduce unemployment, and contribute to the surrounding communities. Again, the unwillingness of individual tribes, as well as that of the National Indian Gaming Association (the tribes’ lobbyists) and the National Indian Gaming Commission (the federal agency that regulates tribal gambling), to provide information to this Commission, after repeated requests and assurances of confidentiality, limited our assessment to testimony and site visits. While the social benefits to some tribes appear evident, information about economic benefits of Indian gambling cannot be factually proven, other than through estimates, because they have not been forthcoming with information they perceive to be “proprietary.” One perceived economic benefit to both the tribes and the general populationĀ¾reduction of the reliance upon taxpayer-funded federal assistanceĀ¾has not manifested itself to date. For the most part, requests for federal assistance from tribes involved in gambling have continued. 49 As an example, the Mashantucket Pequots, whose Foxwoods facility in Connecticut is the largest casino in the world and grosses more than $1 billion in annual revenues for the 550 tribal members, still received $1.5 million in low-income housing assistance in 1996 and continues to receive other federal funds. 50

41 Barents Group, The Economic Impacts of the Horse Industry in the United States, Volume 1: National Summary, at 19 (December 9, 1996). 42 Thalheimer Research Associates, The Economic Impact of the California Race Horse Industry, at iii-iv (January 1994). 43 James J. Hickey, Jr., Retreat Briefing Materials for the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, at 1 (February 4, 1999). 44 Christiansen, Op. cit., p. 11. 45 Ibid., p. 23. 46 “Tribal Gaming,” San Francisco Examiner (August 2, 1998), p. A-14. 47 Testimony before the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Del Mar, CA (July 29, 1998). 48 25 U. S. C. 2710 (b)( 1-3). 49 One in-depth report noted: “Sudden wealth has not sated the strong sense of entitlement of some tribes. Minnesota’s Fond du Lac Chippewas voted against spending $9 million to replace a dilapidated school even though the tribe had $30 million in banked casino revenues. The United States has an obligation to Indian people, and I’m going to hold them to it,” the tribe’s chairman told the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently.” (Sean Paige, “Gambling on the Future,” Insight Magazine, December 12, 1997, p. 6.)