WASHINGTON - At the unveiling of its tribal gaming economic impact
analysis, the National Indian Gaming Association emphasized the positive
community impact of $18.5 billion in total revenue for 2004.
"That prosperity doesn't stop at reservation boundaries," NIGA Chairman
Ernie Stevens Jr. said Feb. 15 at the National Press Club in Washington. He
noted that non-Indians hold 75 percent of the jobs generated by Indian
"Simply put, we are self-sufficient again," said Doreen Hagen, chair of the
Prairie Island Indian Community in Minnesota and one of a half-dozen tribal
leaders on hand to bear witness to what gaming has done for their tribes
and communities. "But gaming has done much more."
Gaming "rebuilt our community" in its true sense, Hagen said: a fabric of
fellowship has evolved, and with it the re-emergence of the Mdewakanton
Dakota's native tongue and their religious and spiritual ceremonies. "We
are passing those traditions on to our children... It has restored health
and vitality to my community."
Hagen recalled growing up in a wooden shack without electricity or running
water, attending a boarding school and flagging down trains for travel. She
began a career through military service in Vietnam and continued it
In 1984 her tribe began a small bingo operation, "and for the first time
there were jobs on the reservation." So she stayed, and found another first
- that the tribe could have a political voice against outside interests
that wanted to locate a nuclear and industrial waste site next door to the
On that issue she began a political career that led her to the tribe's
leadership post, ultimately presiding over a casino operation that has
fueled a $16 million increase in goods-and-services purchases throughout
the surrounding county, a $49 million payout from the tribe to vendors in
fiscal year 2004, a high-dollar commitment to local philanthropy and a more
than $100 million annual contribution to the state economy.
"Yet we are constantly criticized for not contributing enough" to the state
economy, she said. In Minnesota, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has demanded
that tribes renegotiate gaming compacts with the state, with a much higher
share of proceeds proposed for the state.
Most of the other tribal leaders from across the nation report a similar
experience: that rising revenues of Indian gaming as an industry have led
to rising expectations that tribal gaming revenues should come to the
rescue of mismanaged state economies.
But the $18.5 billion generated by tribal government gaming in 2004 is not
profit, as NIGA took pains to point out. From total revenues come wages,
purchases of goods and services, debt retirement, taxes and other
single-revenue streams that ripple through the local, state and national
NIGA reports that tribal government enterprises related to Indian gaming
generated another $2.5 billion in 2004; gaming and related businesses
accounted for more than half a million jobs; state governments took in $1.8
billion from Indian gaming and related businesses.
Additionally, in keeping with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, tribal
governments use gaming proceeds to fund essential government services such
as housing, health care, police and fire protection, elder care and
cultural preservation as well as basic infrastructure such as road, sewer,
water and education systems. In the past, many of these services have been
funded by the federal government.
Tribal charitable donations linked to gaming are more difficult to
estimate, but NIGA cites file information, surveys of its member tribes,
press releases and press reports to say tribal governments donated more
than $100 million to local and national charities in 2004.
The economic impact analysis estimates that tribal government gaming is
helping two-thirds of tribes in the 48 contiguous states to overcome past
"policies that wiped out millions of people and destroyed our economies,"
in Stevens' words. But the impact of genocide is still felt, he added.
Federal funding of tribes has been in decline per capita since 1985, the
report maintains. "In addition, Indian tribes struggle to overcome many
difficult social, health and community problems created by the United
States' legacy of genocide and dispossession of American Indians ... Indian
gaming has had a positive impact on these problems. But Indian tribes
clearly have a long ways to go before the standard of living for American
Indians rises to the level of non-Indians nationwide."
Mark Van Norman, executive director of NIGA, said that perhaps gaming's
most important achievement is that it's developing a business network in
Indian country as the ripple effect of gaming revenue provides a financial
foothold for Indian entrepreneurs, who can eventually offer encouragement
and assistance to those who come after.