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Media gambling with credibility

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In Indian gaming, unfairness and lack of credibility are constant threats - from the national media. The latest example comes from BusinessWeek magazine, which published in its March 26 edition a one-sided critique of the expansion of Indian gaming, ''Parlaying Casinos into Empires.'' The piece places various elements of tribal gaming together in a lineup - trust land, taxes, enterprise expansion, political influence and the kingpin, Indian sovereignty - to make its case for defending a ''backlash on Main Street.'' Unfortunately for BusinessWeek, these ''usual suspects'' are fall guys for simple ignorance.

Most of these brief glimpses into the success and expansion of tribal gaming fail to report a real and hard fact: Only a sliver of the tribes that attempt economic stability and prosperity through large-scale gaming have actually achieved it. The two dozen or so tribes that garner the most media attention are hardly representative of the vast majority of tribes that operate modestly successful gaming operations, helping to contribute to governmental services.

The media (in this instance, BusinessWeek) plays this game well, ''revealing'' tribal gaming revenue as if it were a closely kept secret. In fact, these figures are available to the public on the National Indian Gaming Commission Web site. Ernie Stevens Jr., chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, was not quoted in the article. He responded with an open letter, pointing out: ''By generating more than $25 billion in economic activity nationwide each year, Indian gaming generates 670,000 jobs nationwide, $8.6 billion in Federal taxes and revenue savings, $2.4 billion in state taxes, revenue sharing, regulatory payments and revenue savings, and more than $100 million in payments to local governments.'' If these numbers call for a ''backlash on Main Street'': there's something else going on in Small Town, USA, that doesn't have anything to do with Indian gaming.

Some amount of common sense should be applied in reporting on tribal economies. Always afforded his opinion is John Doe, operator of the local convenience store that cannot compete with neighboring tribes' low prices. Not coincidentally, his words typically echo those of the spokesman of the gas station's national representative organization. We rarely hear consumers quoted in these stories, the ones who, according to a Zogby International poll conducted in New York state last year, heavily support the tribal position to not collect state taxes from its businesses. They understand that lowering taxes boosts local economies and that raising taxes quickly diminishes economic gains. Rather than directing complaints about high taxes toward tribes, non-Native business owners and the media, they would do well to divert their attention toward their own leadership.