Marquez: National Impact Study will document economic realities

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The socioeconomic impact of Indian gaming is a subject of much speculation and debate, and thus it concerns me that in recent months many of us in Indian country have witnessed article upon article, and study upon study, based on unsubstantiated data and figures regarding our industry. I find myself, along with fellow tribal leaders, asking the same question over and over again, "Where do these analysts get their information and why was I not contacted to validate the content or to verify the facts of my tribe?"

Countless of our own regional and local impact studies explore single-site or single-state impacts and yet we lack robust findings on a national level. As helpful as the regional and local studies may be on their own terms, they are so narrow in focus that they simply cannot provide the comprehensive analytical approach needed to assess the socioeconomic effects of Indian gaming on Indian and non-Indian communities.

Let me therefore pose two questions to tribal nations everywhere: How long can we as tribes endure falsehoods and fabrications about our economies? And, by contrast, how much more effective is it to participate in a scientific study implemented by legitimate researchers with involvement from tribes, that addresses questions specific to our culture, sovereignty and continued self reliance, but most importantly, those that accurately measure gaming's impacts?

The answer is this - we can no longer afford to sit by the wayside only to be hit with an onslaught of future studies or surveys proclaiming to show the impacts of Indian gaming. The "false prophets" and their studies further demonstrate the importance and need for an authoritative report based on hard data. The inaccuracies in the studies I have recently read continue to surface, thus rejuvenating my strong belief in the importance and critical need for launching an authoritative study on a national scale.

It is for these reasons that the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development (HPAIED), in conjunction with the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) and its member tribes, has embarked on a National Impact Study to set the record straight on the true impacts of Indian gaming. And, it is for these reasons that I have been compelled to take an active role on the National Research Sub-Committee at NIGA - a committee formed to join the efforts of private-sector analysts, distinguished academic researchers and tribal policy managers, and aiming to produce a research product that is robust enough to withstand criticism and be credible to academics, policymakers and tribes alike.

The National Impact Study will be a 2.5 year effort designed to present a multi-dimensional, unbiased portrait of Indian gaming. The study will show the economic reach of Indian gaming, demonstrating that it is not limited to tribal governments or Indian reservations. In addition to helping focus policy debates away from myths and misperceptions, this study will have direct benefits to Indian communities. Since the study will be national in scope, it will achieve that which regional and single-tribe impact studies have failed to do, namely provide a definitive picture of what gaming has brought to us and our neighbors, relative to what might otherwise have been. Because of their limited geographic scope, most sub-national Indian gaming studies cannot readily answer the question: What would things have looked like without the creation of Indian casinos? The national study gains the statistical power we need to understand the answer to this question.

The study is an ambitious project consisting of: on-site data collection; detailed statistical analyses of public and tribal socioeconomic data; economic modeling; in-depth case studies and symposia on policy issues of concern. The five components support and reinforce each other. The hard data from tribes is necessary because the census and other public data only partially capture what is happening at the reservation level. Combining tribal data with public data allows the researchers to draw concrete conclusions about the impacts of gaming on reservations and in neighboring communities.

The detailed case studies complement the analysis of the numbers by reviewing the impacts in a narrative form that is more true to our cultures and more likely to explain the causes behind the impacts uncovered in the statistical analyses. The economic modeling helps us understand the sectoral and regional variation in economic activity around the country. Finally, the symposia allow tribal leaders to offer insights to researchers on issues of tribal and national concern, where theory and data alone cannot be conclusive about policy; for example, with regards to economic diversification, intergovernmental agreements and regulation.

Concrete deliverables of this study will include, but are not limited to: a book-length report ready for publication; a data collection infrastructure for NIGA to use in future studies; and intermediate research reports consisting of 1) regional analyses showing sector-by-sector impacts, price and wage changes, and demographic shifts; 2) a comparison of gaming and non-gaming tribes' socioeconomic change; 3) a report examining socioeconomic change on and off-reservations with and without gaming. In addition, the statistics will be shared with the participating tribes so that each can better understand its own regional socioeconomic context, how each has changed over the years, and how that context compares with national averages.

I cannot stress enough the importance of joining forces with NIGA in support of this great need. The time is at hand for tribes to unite and take a stand to clarify, once and for all, the facts surrounding the impacts of Indian gaming, and to have our voices heard. I remain steadfast in my quest to see to it that the National Impact Study becomes a priority for all Indian nations, and I urge each and every tribal member to search their hearts and minds to help make this study a reality for future generations of Indian people everywhere.

We are in need of funding for this historic initiative, and I hope that like me, you also feel it your duty to see this important study realized. It is essential to our future.

If you are interested in serving as an underwriter who can help ensure that the project goes forward rapidly and conclusively, or if you're interested in contributing a donation, please contact me at dmarquez@sanmanuel-nsn.gov or Valerie Spicer at vspice@cox.net. For additional information, please contact the National Indian Gaming Association at 224 Second Street, SE, Washington, D.C., 20003 or call (202) 546-7711.

Deron Marquez is Chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.