Indian Gaming is Different
There is a dangerous trend in the media, namely, stories that compare Indian gaming with other forms of gambling. A recent Los Angeles Times editorial railed against the expansion of gaming in California, such as off-track betting and Internet gambling, grouping these with Indian gaming. The Times is right: There is indeed a dangerous potential for vastly expanded gaming in California ? but this should not be associated with Indian gaming.
This blurring of lines between the various forms of gaming induces a kind of forgetfulness, obfuscating the reasons why Californians in overwhelming numbers voted for Propositions 5 and 1A ? measures that legalized Indian gaming on reservations in the state. Church bingo and Indian gaming are socially redeeming activities. In the case of Native Americans, gaming provides for self-reliance, ending welfare and the unimaginable poverty the Indian peoples were subject to just a few years ago. In the two years since Proposition 1A was passed, reservations have seen economic activity and growth that was previously unthinkable. Indian gaming is a means to an end and is far different than for-profit gambling such as card clubs, horse tracks and Las Vegas casinos, the profits from which are ends in themselves.
Recently, alarm bells have been ringing over the specter of Indian gaming in urban areas, fueling a fire that Indian gaming is stimulating an expansion of statewide gambling. This concern is contradicted by two facts. First, when the original tribal-state compacts were negotiated, the 61 Tribal Nations involved made it clear that they planned to avoid exactly this situation, pledging to keep casinos in rural areas, away from the cities. Second, while some tribes may dream of an urban casino, with the possible exception of two the prospect is almost nil: Indian gaming in urban areas by newly recognized tribes would require a series of signoffs by federal and state officials that is impossible to imagine.
Other concerns have been expressed in the media and by legislators: that tribal government gaming is getting out of hand and that tribes have free reign so long as gaming occurs on reservation lands. As with so many things, unregulated opinion is contradicted by reality. Every gaming tribe in the country is governed by specific and clear regulations outlined in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the federal act that makes gaming legal on Indian land.
In addition, each gaming tribe is required to negotiate a compact with its respective state, spelling out further regulatory guidelines on top of the regulations imposed by the National Indian Gaming Commission and the tribal government gaming commissions on each reservation. By contrast, for-profit gaming is subject to little, if any, regulation. The sheer volume of regulations to which Indian gaming is subject separates it from all other forms and gives the lie to the effort to lump Indian gaming with other gaming activities. When you read that Indian gaming is unregulated and that Indians can do what they want when they want on their reservations, know that you are reading a bunch of hooey!
There are powerful forces at work in the state who wish to give to all gaming the same rights as the people of California gave to tribal governments. Soon you may be asked to sign a petition putting an initiative on the statewide ballot to legalize gaming throughout California. In short, these proponents of for-profit gambling seek a major expansion from the limited gaming that we now have.
Many of their lobbyists and spokespersons argue that since Indian gaming is everywhere, non-Indian gaming should have the same rights. But that is the point, isn't it? Indian gaming is not everywhere and is confined to reservations largely in rural areas. Some who lump Indian gaming with an expansion of gaming want to turn back the clock on Indian gaming, reversing the decision of the people on Propositions 5 and 1A. But others deny the uniqueness of Indian gaming in order to provide for a quantum increase in for-profit gaming.
Either way, the protection of Indian sovereignty and self-reliance is a daily vigil that requires public education as much as it requires continuous education of the media and legislative bodies.
Some of the most important distinctions between Indian gaming and its for-profit counterpart are the economic benefits and the community spirit animating the former. Indian gaming throughout California has positively affected the communities and local economies surrounding Indian casinos.
According to a recent study by the National Indian Gaming Association, "Indian gaming currently contributes approximately $120 million in state and local tax receipts annually." According to another report relating to the local businesses surrounding Indian casinos, gaming patrons spent an estimated $237 million in the local communities. These numbers continue to grow each year. Furthermore, tribal governments have been important sources of philanthropic giving in their communities, contributing millions of dollars annually to charities and other non-profit groups. Many of these local public-benefit organizations would be facing bankruptcy without the monies generated from Indian gaming.
Nevertheless, the most important benefit that Indian gaming has brought to California tribes is the ability to provide for ourselves. Revenues generated by tribal casinos give us the ability to offer healthcare options to members, to create education programs, to provide adequate housing, emergency services and infrastructure on our lands. Indian gaming offers us the chance to be self-sufficient and reliant upon no one else but ourselves.
Through negotiations, today all 109 tribal nations in California benefit from Indian gaming. California is the only state in the nation to have a revenue-sharing provision for all tribes in the state. These attributes are lost when the differences in gaming are not spelled out, when the lines are blurred. It is exactly why Indian gaming deserves distinction from the rest. Because it is different ? in its hopes, its goals and its results.