Tribal Gaming in the United States

The availability of casino gaming in the United States has changed drastically over the last 20 years or so. For many years I worked with a newspaper niche group. Our niche was casino gaming. Through that association we were invited to Nevada to cover gaming tournaments. That connection fed our curiosity about the business.

The major change in casino gaming in the United States is the result of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) passed by the U. S. Congress in 1988. At that time, Washington, our home state, was one of the few states that already had a State Gambling Commission in existence.

That Gambling Commission was in place to regulate charity and commercial gaming in the State of Washington. Because casino gaming – including Craps, Blackjack and Roulette – was already permitted in the state, the Native American tribes in the state of Washington were among the first in the country to open casinos on tribal land.

The economic benefits to the tribal communities have been – in most cases – a real boon to the members. Economic and educational opportunities that were not previously available to tribal members all of a sudden were. Young members of the tribe had a future. Middle aged members had job possibilities and older members had a little more security.

One of the local tribes – The Puyallup Nation – dispenses $3,000 per month from their casino profits to each member of the tribe. All funds are held in trust for members under 18 years of age. The other two major tribes concentrate their profits on bettering the standard of living for their members.

Like anything else that grows too quickly – some of the gaming explosion has been good and some of it not so good.

Some jurisdictions broadened their laws to expand non-tribal gaming. In some areas, the state got more involved when the state didn’t understand the business of gambling. Many jurisdictions considered the addition of casino gaming to be the answer to their depressed economies. Consequently, some areas were over-developed.

And, unfortunately, like many things that start out a good – or at least an okay – idea, some parts of it have gotten out of control.

We’ve watched what has evolved in Washington with antennae up to the rest of the country. The original ruling with the Bureau of Indian Affairs was that any tribe located in a jurisdiction that allowed casino gaming could allow casino gaming on their tribal land.

That opened up a whole can of worms which resulted in defunct tribes trying to resurrect their tribal status, professional casino companies “managing” casino properties for the tribes – and not always to the tribe’s advantage. The tribe’s land was not always the most advantageous so other lands came into the picture. Some tribes used the money to the advantage of their members – others did not.

Historically the “Founding Fathers” in this great country of ours took terrible advantage of Native American tribes and did their best to destroy the culture in the name of progress when it was no more than a land grab. But then, my family is from Croatia and they’re full of stories about the conquerors who over rode their country.

My son was killed in Iraq in 2005 – Do we have any business being there? He thought so and gave his life for what he believed. I firmly believe he was right to be there – then. The tyranny the Iraqi people were living under had to stop. Unfortunately, it’s a long process and one the people of Iraq have to figure out for themselves.

The history of many countries is filled with stories of infidels, conquerors and land being taken away from one group and given to another. It’s been happening for centuries.

So what does that have to do with the issue of Tribal Gaming now. The land that the casinos sit on is considered Tribal land and therefore is exempt from certain taxes. That raises the question of propriety when a tribe is able to substitute land for a casino expansion. Many times after the land switch the tribes are conducting business in a jurisdiction that requires all other businesses to pay a tax base to support that jurisdiction.

The original IGRA ruling pertained to original tribal land, but when land is substituted or a defunct tribe is granted resurrected status, I wonder if the same rules should continue to apply.

This is being written in the summer of 2009 in the middle of the worst financial crises this country has ever seen. If there is a tribal casino in your area, notice how many people are playing every day. If someone took the time to do the research would they find out that the amount of money being spent at tribal casinos in this country has contributed significantly to the money crises many people are in.

However, casino gaming is a choice for people to make. It’s entertainment and kept under control not that much different from what one would pay to attend a major concert or a major league sporting event. However, tribal casino gaming enjoys a tax advantage status that other businesses do not enjoy.

So, when many dollars are being spent on an activity that is not generating a tax base and that tax base supports education and basic human services we all suffer.

Live casino gaming action is now available just about anywhere you go in the United States. So even if your state doesn’t offer live gaming, somewhere in your geographical region you can probably find a casino.

If you enjoy casino gaming, do yourself a huge favor and learn all you can about the table games. The one-armed bandits have reached a technological level that is raking in billions of dollars to both tribal and commercial gaming establishments across the country. Your best counter-measure is to know and understand more about the table games. You’ll last longer on the money you have to play with and you’ll have more control over your gaming destiny.

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