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Markwayne Mullin Assuages Fears of Trump Going After Indian Gaming

There is a perception among many Native Americans that Donald Trump doesn’t like Indians. His remarks over the years have been anything but respectful or inclusive — from showing his support for the name Redskins to taking a swipe at Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) claims to Native ancestry by calling her “Pocahontas.”

Most notably, Trump lifted the halt to the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in late January. Over the course of his career as a public figure, he has also made numerous derogatory comments directed at tribal casinos.

“You’re saying only Indians can have the reservations, only Indians can have gaming. So why aren’t you approving it for everybody? Why are you being discriminatory? Why is it that the Indians don’t pay tax, but everybody else does? I do,” said Trump during a Congressional hearing in 1993, showing his blatant lack of understanding of Native American and American history.

The same year, he also made the infamous racial insult at the Mashantucket Pequots in Connecticut: “They don’t look like Indians to me, and they don’t look like Indians to other Indians.”

But those days are over, said Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), Cherokee, chair of the federal Native American Coalition. “The concerns with the president supposedly going after Indian gaming; I want to put that fear to rest. I’ve been talking about this ever since the campaign. He’s made it very clear. When he spoke those words back in the ’90’s [about tribal casinos] he was the businessman Trump. He was the CEO of Trump Organization and he was competing with tribes.

“He’s made it very clear and he has spoken very frank about this. He is supportive of tribal casinos, he is pro-business and he recognizes that the casinos in Indian country have done an incredible job and have made a tremendous impact in some very rural communities,” said Mullin.

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The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) released a report showing tribal casinos in the state paid more than $1 billion in exclusivity fees, known as revenue sharing based on tribal-state compacts, from 2006 to 2015 (the data for 2016 is not available). The OIGA recently released the report to the public at the state Capitol. It outlines the impact that tribal gambling and related industries have had on Oklahoma communities.

A total of 31 tribes operate nearly 130 gambling operations in the state with 72,850 electronic games and almost 5,300 bingo seats. Among other things, the report says tribal gambling output in the state was $4.75 billion in 2015, representing 3 percent of private production in the Oklahoma economy, and tribal gambling had a total economic impact of $7.2 billion from operations and construction, of which 60 percent was in rural areas.

The first year the state started collecting revenue on Class III gaming was 2006. Today, tribes directly employ 28,000 people, but if you include the indirect jobs, the total impact on employment in the state of Oklahoma from the tribal gaming operations is estimated at approximately 43,000. The majority of employees of tribal casinos are not members of any tribe.

“The $1.123 billion amounts to about $130 million in revenue to the state annually,” said Kyle Dean, director of the Center for Native American and Urban Studies at Oklahoma City University and one of the authors of the report. “The state takes $250,000 off the top and sends that to the State Department of Health, I believe, to essentially help with gambling addiction. Of the rest, 88 percent goes to a revolving education fund, which is spent for education purposes and the remaining 12 percent goes to the state’s general revenue coffers.”

Oklahoma is a state that in the last few years has had massive budget shortfalls, and is a state that is reliant upon oil and gas production. Those revenues have been down and, at the same time, the state has cut income tax rates. Income tax revenue has gone down. They are also a historically red state.

“When I was campaigning, I was campaigning with [Donald] Trump Jr. We had a conversation about it and he assured me they’re supportive of tribal casinos, as long as they are abiding by the agreements in Oklahoma or any other state,” said Mullin, one of only two Native Americans in Congress. “If they’re not paying what they agreed to pay, then we’d be having a different conversation.”