Tribal Indian Gambling Connection with The Employment Laws

Although the impact varies greatly, tribal gambling has significantly decreased the rates of unemployment for some tribes. For example, the Subcommittee received testimony that stated that, for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwes in Minnesota, unemployment has decreased from about 60 percent in 1991 to almost zero at present. 78 For the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin, the unemployment rate dropped from nearly 70 percent to less than 5 percent after their casino opened. 79 Representatives from the Gila river Indian Community testified that unemployment on their reservation has decreased from 40 percent to 11 percent since the introduction of gambling. 80 The Coeur d’Alene tribe reported a decrease in the unemployment rate from 55 percent to 22 percent. 81 A number of other tribes have reported similar results.

The Subcommittee also heard much testimony about the pride, optimism, hope, and opportunity that has accompanied the revenues and programs generated by Indian gambling facilities. As one tribal representative stated:
Gaming has provided a new sense of hope for the future among a Nation that previously felt too much despair and powerlessness as a result of our long term poverty… and a renewed interest in the past. The economic development generated by gaming has raised our spirits and drawn us close together. 82

Impact of Indian Gaming,” National Indian Gaming Association, (February, 1997).
The Chairman of the Hopi tribe testified before this Commission.

One need only visit an Indian casino to realize that a significant number of casino patrons are Indian people from the reservations on which the casino is located or from other nearby reservations, including non-gaming reservations.… I believe it is also safe to conclude that most Indian people do not routinely have a surplus disposable income which should be expended on games of chance. Most of our people on most reservations and tribal communities find it difficult enough to accumulate enough income on a monthly basis to meet the most basic needs of their families. While the decision to expend those funds in gaming activities is an individual choice, the impacts on family members who frequently do not participate in that choice are nevertheless affected. 83

The applicability of federal labor laws to tribal governments and their business enterprises is a controversial and much-discussed issue in federal courts. 84 Two federal statutes concerning employment issues expressly exclude tribes from coverage: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In addition, certain other non-discrimination laws have been held not to apply where the alleged discrimination was in regards to admission to membership in the tribe. 85 All other federal statutes regarding employment “are silent.” 86 Some federal courts of appeals, however, have held that the following federal laws do apply to on-reservation tribal businesses under fact-specific circumstances: The Occupational Safety and Health Act; 87 the Employee Retirement Income Security Act; 88 and the Fair Labor Standards Act. 89

78 Testimony submitted by Marge Anderson, Chief Executive, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians, before the Indian Gambling Subcommittee of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Las Vegas, NV, November 9, 1998. 79 Ibid. 80 Letha Lemb-Grassley, Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Indian Gambling, National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Seattle, WA (Jan 7, 1999) (Board of Directors of the Gila River Indian Community). 81 Information provided by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to the Subcommittee on Indian Gambling, National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Seattle, WA (Jan. 7, 1999). 82 Jacob LoneTree, Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Indian Gambling, National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Las Vegas, NE (Nov. 9, 1998) (President of the Ho-Chunk Nation). 83 The Honorable Wayne Taylor, Jr., Testimony before the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Tempe, AZ, July 30, 1998. 84 See William Buffalo and Kevin Wadzinski, Application of Federal and State Labor and Employment Law to Indian Tribal Employers, 25 MR. ST. U. L. REV. 1365 (1995). 85 Nero v. Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, 892 F. 2d 1457, 1462- 1463 (CA10 1989).