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Indian gaming: How to stay up in a down economy

PHOENIX – Surviving a down economy will be the focus of the National Indian Gaming Association annual Trade Show and Convention this month. The event will feature a number of timely new workshops specifically aimed at addressing the economic landscape in the Indian gaming industry.

Indian Gaming ’09 will take place April 13 – 16 at the Phoenix Convention Center. NIGA is a nonprofit trade association of 184 member tribes and other non-voting associate members whose mission is to improve the lives of Indian people – economically, socially and politically. NIGA provides educational, legislative and public policy resources for tribes, policymakers and the public on Indian gaming issues and tribal community development.

NIGA’s annual event is the most comprehensive Indian gaming trade show and convention in the country with three full days of concentrated meetings, presentations, workshops and other activities intended to update those in the gaming business with the latest industry trends, provide networking and professional development opportunities, and help forge new business relationships.

The sessions are organized under a number of gaming tracks including amenity development, economic development, finance, food and beverage, going green, human resources for Indian gaming, marketing, regulation, security/surveillance, slots, success stories, technology and tribal executive leader.

A new category has been added this year called “Responding to Recession Track.”

With the focus on the economy, more than 100 casino industry experts are set to present dozens of training and workshop sessions to address specific Indian country issues and how to stay up in a down economy. Some of the session titles include “Retraining, Restructuring and Re-energizing Your Staff after Layoffs,” “What Recession? How Actual Casinos Are Growing Revenues Even in Today’s Environment,” and “Turning Green into Green: Taking Advantage of Stimulus and Other Incentives to Green Casinos and Diversify Tribal Income Streams.”

The convention usually attracts thousands of tribal leaders, tribal delegates, gaming industry professionals and gaming-related businesses. Bringing together this community is crucial to success, said NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr.

He says Indian gaming has grown up over the years.

“Early on people described Indian gaming as exploding onto the scene. We feel we have grown and matured into a very responsible industry, including everything from regulations to marketing to the operations area, to the hotel and restaurant offshoot industries. I think to that extent, Indian country has now become the expert in the industry. Indian country has come into its own and we’re pretty good at this and we’re going to continue to work hard and get better at it.”

The four-day event kicks off with three golf tournaments at different area courses.

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Stevens will host the Chairman’s Welcome Reception at the Hyatt Regency Hotel next to the convention center that Sunday night. Crystal Shawanda, a rising First Nations country star, will provide entertainment.

For the first time, Gaming Commissioner’s Certification Level 1 will be offered at the convention. The course is the first part of the NIGA Seminar Institute’s three-part certification series on gaming regulations.

On Tuesday, April 14, Gila River Wild Horse Pass Resort and Casino will host the ever-popular “Jam on the Rez” with entertainment by R & B legend Gladys Knight.

The tradeshow will open Wednesday, April 15, while workshops and NIGA membership meetings continue. The American Indian Business Network will hold a reception, hosted by AGEM – the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers.

Clinton Pattea, president of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, will be honored at the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award Banquet in the convention center ballroom, after which the Beach Boys will play.

Workshops will continue on Thursday, and Indian Gaming ’09 will end with a cultural reception at the convention center.

With the current economic downturn, NIGA has kept registration rates the same as last year’s with several discounts and cost savings packages available.

“We have challenges, there’s no doubt about it, but I think there are strengths in the way we work,” Stevens said. “This economy has put a great deal of pressure on us. We’re accepting that and we intend to keep working hard.”

Even though Indian gaming has benefited many people both in and out of Indian country, he said the tribal community needs to do more.

“We have to keep an eye on our brothers and sisters that don’t have the market or are held back from gaming. Those people are our priority and we have to find ways to bring them into the economic development area.”