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Sodak flexes muscles

WASHINGTON - Since 1989, Sodak Gaming Inc. has given more than $2.5 million to American Indian causes, defending Indian sovereignty and Indian gaming.

This year it added a donation of $1 million to the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA). Therefore, it is no surprise to some that the Rapid City, S.D.-based Sodak has also come to dominate the highly profitable market of supplying and equipping gaming operations on American Indian lands, serving more than 100 gaming facilities across Indian country.

"They have a long-standing interest in protecting our rights," said Rick

Hill, chairman of the gaming association. "They are naturally protecting their interests, but their interests are also our interests. There has been no other vendor that has stepped up like Sodak"

As a subsidiary of International Game Technology, Sodak is the largest provider and leading distributor of gaming equipment to Indian casinos in the United States. In addition to financing use of that equipment, the company provides customized casino floor layouts, market research, and legal and regulatory assistance to its clients.

The company also manages Native American Progressive Systems, which have awarded over $300 million in MegaJackpots since 1994, and monitors more than 3,000 progressive machines in 108 Indian casinos in 13 states.

Established in 1985, the gaming association is the primary advocacy organization in American Indian gaming, representing some 168 tribal nations along with other non-voting associate members from the ranks of organizations, tribes and businesses engaged in tribal gaming enterprises.

The association mission statement states its role is to "protect and preserve the general welfare of tribes striving for self-sufficiency through gaming enterprises in Indian Country." It operates as a clearinghouse and educational, legislative and public policy resource for tribes, policymakers and the public on American Indian gaming issues and tribal community development.

Sodak's influence within Indian gaming and specifically the association is well known. Sodak is not only a major vendor participant at the NIGA Tradeshow and Conference, but the only major supplier of gaming equipment with representation on the association's executive committee.

However, as a corporation Sodak can only hold a non-voting, associate membership with the organization. It gained the seat on the committee through nomination by other associate members. While it is a non-voting member, it can still play an important role within NIGA and has proven a desire to influence American Indian gaming and strengthen an already firm position within the market.

Sodak CEO, Roland Gentner, says the $1 million donation to NIGA begins with it an initial gift of $125,000, with 35 installments over three years, reaching the $1 million level by 2003.

"This program expands and reaffirms Sodak's commitment to Indian causes and concerns and assures NIGA that they can continue to count on us in the future," Gentner said.

Although Sodak has played a positive role in the growth and success of American Indian gaming, it was recently absorbed by Nevada-based International Gaming Technology (IGT), the world's largest developer and manufacturer of gaming equipment.

"There were some sore spots and worries from some tribes when IGT took over Sodak," Hill said. "IGT had opposed the tribal gaming proposition in California and some were concerned about supporting Sodak, but Sodak has proven itself."

Hill says Sodak's contribution will be used by NIGA to support American Indian gaming, improve NIGA's infrastructure and work with Congress, the National Indian Gaming Commission and other agencies. Hill added that he hopes other vendors which serve Indian country will follow Sodak's lead and make similar contributions to the future of American Indian gaming.

"It was the right thing to do," Hill said. "We hope others will follow."